A child being born is a magical moment and I wish the Royal Family well. The birth of my own sons remains the highlight of my life and something I’ll always treasure.
However, fawning coverage and sycophantic comments over the Royal birth have been wearisome, and, they’re but a prelude for a Royal Wedding to come. That’s already been heavily trailed and it’ll only increase as the big day draws near.
Now, I’m no devotee of the monarchy, nor am I an ardent republican, frankly I just don’t care. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about the Royal Family, one way or another, though I know there are many as besotted of them, as others are of their football team. They seem as daft to me as the “fitba” fanatic, but good luck to them.
Likewise, I’m aware of politicians who are deeply republican and I respect their views. I suppose as a democrat and egalitarian I veer towards republicanism, in its constitutional form, it’s just that I’ve never seen it as the major issue. Indeed, I’ve more often felt it was a side issue that deflected from independence or other transformative social and economic policies.
So, long as it was a constitutional monarchy that eschewed political involvement that was fine by me, and to be fair, the House of Windsor has done that although the actions of the Governor General towards Gough Whitlam’s Australian Government were an aberration. Even the Queen apparently “purring” over the outcome of the independence referendum I could accept as just symptomatic of class and power, as well as the preservation of her British throne.
Moreover, I also built up a grudging respect for them over my ministerial years. They answered queries that I’d had such as whether they sang the national anthem – which they do – and our paths frequently crossed at events in support of charities and organisations, giving me a new insight that was much more appreciative of their work. I can’t say I was brought to my knees in deference but I did come to admire their ability to deal with all sorts of people and recognised there was a considerable work load involved.
Of course, they’re remarkably well paid for it, provided for not just by the public purse but through other assets acquired over the years. The remarkable age and good health of both the Queen and Prince Philip are testimony to the best care and attention that can be provided, not just the longevity in the royal gene pool. My principal recollection of meeting the Queen was how small she was but otherwise non-descript. Interactions with Prince Charles and Princess Anne were far greater, given the charities and organisations they supported.
I first came across Prince Charles at Polmont Young Offenders Institution where he not only showed a keen interest but appeared genuinely distressed at the situation of many inmates. Neither shying away nor talking down to them, he engaged with challenged and challenging youngsters. He has been much derided by many and clearly has some quirky views, but I must say I took to him.
Princess Anne was more often in Scotland, whether supporting numerous charities or backing the national rugby team. Again, I grew to respect the way she and others could work a room and deal with people from all walks of life. It’s a real skill that some politicians acquire but the Royals have developed into an art form. They’re remarkably good at it and yet it isn’t easy and, equally, I’ve no reason to doubt the sincerity in what they say and do.
However, it’s also become clear to me that it’s not just a constitutional role that they perform but a business that they run. As the monarchy has evolved within the British constitution they’ve become the House of Windsor Inc. There’s always been the Crown Investments and Estates and now, as recent revelations have disclosed, it’s developed into off-shore assets – and not simply colonies that they reign over.
Like all businesses, especially many family businesses, there are areas of operation to be managed and individuals are groomed to take charge of them. The idea that Princes Charles somehow or other developed a close affinity with Wales, or that Princess Anne awoke one day determined to follow the fortunes of the Scottish Rugby team is patently absurd. They were directed so to do as part of the business empire.
As another generation has come along they too have been directed to take responsibility for this or that and look after this charity or that aspect. In some ways, it’s no different from what happened centuries ago, with princes and princesses put in charge of principalities or fiefdoms.
Similarly, in the past, marriages were formed as part of strategic alliances, whether to acquire new territories, seal friendships between rulers and nations or maintain the royal lineage. Some criteria – in particular, religion – applied with the requirement to preserve the “Protestant ascendancy”, but often a willing partner was more than happy to change their faith to join the family empire.
Now I’m not suggesting that there’s no love or affection in more recent marriages, as I’m sure there’s mutual attraction, but it equally seems that the partner brings a strategic asset to the business. Once it was a prince or princess of good breeding stock or cementing a strategic alliance, but now in the media age it’s star appeal.
The Queen’s reign has been remarkable and likewise I feel Charles is entitled to inherit having waited patiently. But, beyond that no. That timescale also allows the space to agree new political and constitutional structures. Young playboys and glamorous wives are not what a democracy needs in the middle decades of the 21st century.
One of the strongest arguments against a presidency was the possible election of Tony Blair, but the Republic of Ireland’s been blessed with three outstanding presidents in succession. Let the celebrations take place, but let’s prepare for a democratic future.