Ian Simpson: Is it time for the SNP to drop its commitment to the monarchy?

LAST month The Scotsman reported on Scottish Transport & Islands Minister Humza Yousaf's comment that most members of the SNP would like to see an elected head of state replace the monarch in an independent Scotland.

Data shows 63% of Scots say monarchy is important. Picture: Getty Images
Data shows 63% of Scots say monarchy is important. Picture: Getty Images

We do not know whether this is actually the case. However, data from the 2013 Scottish Social Attitudes (SSA) survey indicate that SNP supporters, a different and larger group than SNP members, may be somewhat more supportive of an elected head of state replacing the monarch (42% thought this should happen) than Scots as a whole (33%).

However, the SNP’s policy remains that the Queen would retain her role as head of state, as set out in the Independence White Paper before the referendum.

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With the result of the EU referendum throwing the question of Scotland’s constitutional position back into the spotlight and with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon exploring how to respond, should the SNP now be reconsidering its commitment to the monarchy?

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Humza Yousaf: Most people in SNP want to get rid of monarchy

It is certainly the case that people in Scotland have historically been less enthusiastic about the monarchy than their counterparts in England. NatCen’s British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey regularly asks participants how important it is for Britain to continue to have a monarchy.  

In order to get a sufficiently large sample of people living in Scotland, we combined responses from three BSA survey years (2006-08). During this period, under half (46%) of those in Scotland thought that it was very or quite important for Britain to have a monarchy, compared with two-thirds (66%) of people in England.

Since 2008, support for the monarchy has increased across Britain as a whole. Combined data for 2011, 2012 and 2015 show that in this period, almost three-quarters of people (74%) think it is important for Britain to continue to have a monarchy, up from 64% in the 2006-08 period. Perhaps this surge in enthusiasm has something to do with the number of royal milestones in the past few years: the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2012, and the births of Prince George and Princess Charlotte in 2013 and 2015.

The important question is whether this increase in favourable views of the monarchy is also seen in Scotland - or whether views there have diverged further from those in England.

Our data show that this increased support for the monarchy is indeed replicated in Scotland and that over half of people living there now believe that the monarchy is important.

Based on BSA data from 2011-15, 63% say that the monarchy is important. While this is still lower than support in England where, over the same period, 76% think the monarchy is important, it is clear that Scots have not been immune to the increased royal enthusiasm evident in the first half of this decade.

At a time when a number of constitutional questions relating to an independent Scotland remain unanswered, such as how it would secure its position in relation to the EU and what currency the nation would use, it may be prudent for the SNP to keep its current policy of retaining the monarchy, when over half of people in Scotland regard the institution as important.

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Ian Simpson is a Senior Researcher, NatCen Social Research.