We’ve had the shock, now we are witnessing the awe - Brian Monteith
The past week has been one of mixed emotions, reassessments of our shared psyche or identity, and for a great many, a sense of bonding.
Just like any other week there was enough controversy to be going on with in both international and domestic affairs to keep the media busy and yet the public could be forgiven for not noticing the turn of events that would in normal times be splashed across the front pages or dominating our airwaves.
A mass grave that includes groups of whole families has been discovered in Izium following its liberation by the Ukrainian Army from the Russian occupiers – leading to calls for a war crimes tribunal to be established. The wholesale price of gas has fallen further while the latest inflation rate is down – suggesting the headline rate may yet have peaked (at least in foods). All those stories might ordinarily have been widely covered but our focus has been elsewhere – mainly discussing that most British preoccupation – queuing.
Not just any old queue, of course, but The Queue. For as we have come to terms with the death of Queen Elizabeth so we have moved through different emotions. Despite her significant age of 96, and looking frail in comparison to just a year ago, the photos of her joyous smile on inviting Liz Truss to form a government suggested she would be with us for some time yet. So while it was not unsurprising that she might die within a year of her late husband it still came as something of a shock to many, myself included.
An event that her court and officials have planned for over many years then swung into action and the first surprise was attested by many reacting across the rest of our country that so many Scots turned out to fill the streets as her casket journeyed from Royal Deeside to Edinburgh. From respectful salutes by serried ranks of tractors in Scottish fields, to the populace appearing on motorway bridges or lining the roadside, and then the massed crowds in the High Street, another Scotland was seen – one that looked more at home with its Queen and the monarchy than the perception created by our political leaders never slow to nurse a grievance.
Pictures of the flight out of Edinburgh Airport brought many a tear to those witnessing its broadcast, while the arrival in London, with traffic stopping abruptly for travellers to pay their own respects signalled the welling-up of the country’s grief that we were about to witness.
The journey from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall and then the formation various guards of honour has touched a nerve and reminded us, if reminding was needed, of how much the Queen meant to the family around her; reminding many of us of our own close relatives and how important they were or still are to us.
The formation of The Queue was a living embodiment of much that is British, a calm respect for order rather than chaos – for through order there can be equity irrespective of colour, creed, wealth or religion – and the disputations that could erupt when some are given special treatment to allow that most British of sins – alleged “queue jumping”. How the stock of David Beckham, Susanna Reid, Tilda Swinton and Sharon Osbourne has risen while that of Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby has fallen. We even had the queue for The Queue such is the awe the Queen's reign has generated.
The performance art of The Queue ended earlier this morning and now moves to the funeral in all its contrasting solemnity and pomp. Tens of millions in Britain alone shall watch it – while over a billion in the world might see it. This, together with the number and rank of dignitaries puts paid to the belittling of Britain over recent years.
Unsurprisingly, not everybody has shown sympathy following the death of our Monarch, feeling instead the need to express their disregard or contempt. That is their right, so long as it is within the boundaries of public order – just as it is the right of the rest of us to tell them how they only damn themselves by their disrespective timing and their often crude and insulting language designed to cause offence.
A mother and grandmother, a nonagenarian who worked on our behalf up until the day before she died, deserves respect rather than unbridled hate that in the case of football crowds only brings shame upon the teams they purport to support. There is a debate to be had on the continued role of our constitutional monarchy, but let’s not pretend those chanting obscenities are orators of the first order.
Nuance is not the provenance of the mob, whose behaviour is more in keeping with the heads of state we should wish to avoid. Just as all Monarchs are not absolute despots (are any these days?), not all Presidents are paragons of virtue and respecters of democracy, as Vladimir Putin and Nicolás Maduro demonstrate regularly. I rather doubt another Cromwell would go down well with those insulting the memory of our most moderate, patient and quiet Monarch who epitomised keeping her own counsel rather than broadcasting divisive views from the palace rooftops.
Those advocating change to a republic are more likely to be given a hearing once the nation has had time to grieve and bury our Queen – and the run up to the coronation of King Charles is the time to have it. For it is during his reign that there will be time to reassess the merits of constitutional monarchy and make any changes for the future. But for now, after experiencing the shock of her passing we are witnessing the awe in which our late Queen’s dedication and sacrifice is held.
Brian Monteith is a former member of the Scottish and European Parliaments and is editor of ThinkScotland.org
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