The wages of Scottish independence – The monarchy

The Scottish Numpty Party (SNP) has committed itself to the Queen being Scotland’s head of state should independence occur.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/wintour-and-watt/2011/may/25/alexsalmond-queen). As with so much of the SNP policy towards independence this presumes something which is far from self-evident, namely, that
this would be acceptable to the Queen, practical or agreeable to the remainder of  the UK.

It  might seem a simple thing for the Queen to be Scotland’s  head of state for many of Britain’s ex-colonies and dominions, including substantial states such as Australia and
Canada, retain such a link with the old colonial power.   If she can act as head of state for them why not for an independent Scotland, a much smaller and more insignificant entity?   The answer is simple; all the Commonwealth  countries of which she is queen  are not intimately connected with Britain  geographically, administratively or economically.   Scotland is. In addition, if Scotland retained the pound she would have something no other Commonwealth country has, her fiscal policy substantially decided by Westminster.

To understand the potential dangers of the Queen as head of state of an independent Scotland a familiarity with the nature of the monarchy as it is today.  Britain’s monarchy
evolved from an executive to a constitutional one largely through convention rather than law.  For example, the  monarch stopped vetoing Acts of Parliament after the advent of the Hanoverians in 1714 not because the power was removed by Parliament,  but because the monarch did not use the power. In time this became a convention.  The consequence is that there are few constitutional bars placed on the Crown’s powers and the Royal prerogative is essentially what it was after the Bill of Rights was passed in 1690 in the aftermath of the overthrow of James II. (An up to date description of the Royal Prerogative can be found at (http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons/lib/research/briefings/snpc-03861.pdf).  However, all of the important  powers  which remain bar two  are exercised today by the Prime Minister.  The important exceptions  are (1) where the appointment of a prime minister  is to be made when there is no party with a clear majority in the Commons and the monarch has to decide whether a government can be formed and if so who is best able to do so and (2) the monarch’s decision whether to grant  a dissolution of  Parliament is not straightforward.  For example, suppose a coalition government breaks up and there is the possibility of forming a different coalition with a working majority, the monarch might  decide that the denial of a dissolution and the acceptance of a different coalition might be preferable to another General Election. That could be the case where there have been two General Elections in a short period which have failed to return a House of Commons with a workable  majority for a single party.  If the present Coalition pushes through the promised Bill to make future Parliaments go the full five years unless a strong majority in the Commons votes for a dissolution, this objection would  be much weakened. If the present arrangements for   general elections  in Scotland continue, namely that they be called only every four years , (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/46/part/I/crossheading/general-elections)
the difficulty will not arise.  However, in the case of an independent Scotland there would be more opportunity  for the monarch to be called upon to appoint a new government during the course of a parliament because  the electoral system is likely to produce coalitions and often coalitions of more than two parties.   At present the formation of the Scottish devolved Parliament and government does not involve the monarch. If Scotland became independent she would have to do one of three things: have a Governor-General as the Queen’s representative ;  have a  relationship in which the Queen performs  the same duties in Scotland as she does in the UK as it is presently constituted or some entirely new relationship which reduces the monarch to nothing more than a figurehead with no prerogative power or influence, for example, no Royal warrants, no part in hung parliaments and so on.  This strikes me as unlikely because it would offer  an example to  other Commonwealth states which persuade them to  lobby top change their relationship
with the Crown.

In the case of the appointment of a Governor-General,  that in itself would be a difficult political decision because the Scots would doubtless call for a Scot. The appointment of a Scot could produce a person  with divided loyalties or even worse one wholeheartedly biased towards Scotland’s interests.  Conversely, the failure to appoint a Scot could result in a continuous running political sore. But appointing a Scot as  Governor-General  would be no guarantee of compliance to Edinburgh’s wishes.  The Governor-General of Australia who dismissed Gough Whitlam as Australian Prime Minister in 1975, Sir John Robert Kerr, was Australian.

Any relationship other than one which was new  would produce constitutional difficulty, because the major element of the prerogative which the monarch still exercises which would be applicable to Scotland –  the decision of who should form a government where there is no clear cut electoral decision –  would force the monarch into politics, either
directly or through a High Commissioner.  This might not matter if coalitions were a
rarity in an independent  Scotland. But they would probably be the norm rather than a rarity.  If Scotland retains the  electoral system used for her devolved parliament, the monarch (or Governor-General)  would have to make such a decision  after most  Scottish general elections . Coalitions being fragile, there would also be multiple opportunities for more than one such decision to be made in any parliament.   If that were the case, the monarch (or Governor-General)  would constantly be brought into active politics. Should the monarch (or Governor-General ) make a decision which  was questionable, for example, accepting a coalition which excluded the party with the most seats, the monarch could be subject to personal political attacks. That could undermine the position of the
monarchy in the rest of the UK as well as Scotland.

Scotland could adopt a first-past-the-post electoral system, but that is most unlikely because of the vested interest all parties in  Scotland have in retaining the present system,
that is, all know they will have a chance of at least some seats, something which would not be the case under first-past-the-post.  But  even if a first-past-the-post system was adopted there would still be occasions when a   coalition was needed. This would be much
more likely in a small assembly such as the devolved parliament than in the House of Commons , which has more than  five times the members of the  Scottish parliament.

A small number of elected representatives means that any overall majority is going to be small whatever the electoral system.  That is simply a matter of arithmetic.  In a House with 646 members such as the House of Commons, a party winning 55% of the seats  has 355 members  which gives a majority of  64.  60% of the seats in the Scottish parliament (129 members)  is 71 seats and a majority of 13.  Managing a parliament for four or five years on a majority that small would be difficult. Every death or retirement of a member would take on considerable importance.  The opposition would be constantly on the alert to embarrass the government with “ambush” voting and refusals to pair.  This would make coalitions even where an overall majority likely within their potential for politically embarrassing the monarch.

That is not the only chance of political embarrassment or worse for the monarch. The Queen acts a conduit for  the UK Government’s legislative programme through the Queen’s speech. She does not do the same for the devolved government in Edinburgh.   If  an independent Scotland wished the Queen to give a Queen’s speech in an independent Scottish parliament , she could easily find herself proclaiming contradictory policies in Westminster and Edinburgh, for example,  Westminster might decide to raise duty on Scotch whiskey while Edinburgh opposed such a move. More dramatically, if Scotland continued to use the pound the Scottish government might, for example,  argue for lower
interest rates and Westminster to raise them.

The monarch might also find herself having to speak words written for her by either government which would insult or enrage either Westminster or Edinburgh. It is easy to imagine Alex Salmond putting anti-English rhetoric into a Scottish Queen’s speech.

Embarrassment could also arise if those who were persona non grata to either  Westminster and Edinburgh were entertained by the other and monarch had to meet them. Or the monarch might be called upon to undertake a public duty which was unpalatable to one of the governments, for example opening a nuclear power station in England and praising it as the best way of ensuring future energy supplies while Scotland continued with a no nuclear policy.    The same problems would arise with any lesser royal, in whom they me, the speeches they might give and the places they might visit.

If an independent Scotland decided to use the Royal Prerogative powers which the Westminster Government  uses,  they would be much more potent in Scotland than they are at Westminster. The small size of the  Scottish Parliament would lend itself much more easily to corruption and intimidation because there would be few people who would need to be corrupted or intimidated. That would, for example,  make the use of existing prerogative powers which allow ministers to produce law without having to put legislation through Parliament a potentially dangerous weapon  in the hands of a Scottish Prime Minister inclined  to govern autocratically. In the latter days of the last Labour Government  The Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill 2008-0 (http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/46/part/I/crossheading/general-elections)
was passed. This did put some restrictions on the Royal Prerogative such as giving Parliament  a say in the  waging of war and the agreement to Treaties . But that Act only applies to the Westminster Parliament and UK Government. An independent Scottish Parliament could use the Prerogative in its form prior to that Act.  They could, amongst other things,  make treaties or declare war without  Parliamentary approval.  The Queen could end up supporting a treaty  or war in one country and opposing it in another.

A particularly fraught  problem  is the position of the armed forces. The UK armed forces owe their loyalty to the monarch not Parliament or Government.  Imagine the situation after Scottish independence if both Scotland and the UK had their separate armed forces who were yet all subject to the authority of the monarch.   The opportunities for disagreement would be immense, as indeed they were before the Union when the English and Scottish crowns were united.  In the 1690s Scotland  developed a madcap scheme to establish a colony on the Isthmus of Panama  http://www.rogermoorhouse.com/article2.html).  Its promoters knew nothing about the reality of the site, which was inhospitable. It also fell within the Spanish  ambit.  The promoters of the scheme  called on William III  as King of Scotland to use English colonial power,  English troops and the Royal Navy to support the colony and to generally aid them to the disadvantage of English interests.   William refused because he did not wish to give Spain grounds for war  or create opposition in England.  It is conceivable that similar clashed of interest could arise again, for example, if an independent Scotland could not defend  its territorial waters and called on  the Royal Navy to do so.

That would be an awkward enough marriage of dissonant interests, but the SNP leader is hoping for an independent Scotland and the remainder of the UK to share a common defence force (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/8515034/Sir-Mike-Jackson-tells-Alex-Salmond-British-soldiers-have-only-one-master.html).
That would create an impossible situation whereby Scotland might wish to  withhold  troops and equipment  from Westminster  if there was disagreement about how they might
be deployed.  Servicemen cannot  have two political masters.

Those are some of the problems which would come with an independent Scotland with the Queen as head of state. There are others, for example, the funding of the monarchy. What would Scotland pay?  Or the diplomatic service; how would UK and Scottish ambassadors in the same country, both appointed by the monarch, reconcile different views on the
same diplomatic matters?   What is clear is that a return to the 1707 situation of one crown but two countries would be immensely messy and not in England’s interest.  If Scotland becomes independent it should be without  the Queen as head of state.   The Queen (or her successor) could not veto this,  because the Parliamentary settlement of 1689 with William III puts the ascension of a monarch to the throne of England  in the gift of Parliament.

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6 Responses to The wages of Scottish independence – The monarchy

  1. Pingback: The complete “Wages of Scottish independence” | England calling

  2. Pingback: The complete “Wages of Scottish indpendence” « Living In A Madhouse

  3. Pingback: The complete “The wages of Scottish Independence” « Living In A Madhouse

  4. Chris says:

    Well, where do I start. How pleased I was when I came across this blog, which claimed to explain what it means to be English, I am affraid to say I quickly became disappointed quickly. As a Scot I have been fortunate enough to grow up in a country where my own national identity has been very clearly defined. As I see it the case is different in England where national identity is very unclear. Now don’t get me wrong ‘national identity’ is a difficult thing to pin down most of the times, but you know when you trip over it. England though has always seemed to have this problem, and that is failing to stand out as culturally and mentally independent from the British State, admittedly not a very easy thing to accomplish when London is the capital of both England and Great Britain. And so, the line becomes blurred and the word ‘English’ is all too often interchanged with the word ‘British’ and it seems that this so called English blog has fallen into that old trap. I shall come clean from the get go, I have not read any other articles on this site, but I may later, hopefully there are some which do deal with England and Englishness because I am keen to learn more about that subject. It always intrigues me when people who describe themselves as English (rather than British) get so very hot under the collar about the issue of Scottish Independence, as this is a website dedicated to England I was surprised to see any mention of this subject, because as far as I am concerned it really has nothing to do with England as such.

    Anyway, despite my surprise, there is a whole section dedicated to Scotland, and this part is particularly close to my heart, because I am an ardent monarchist, so I thought I would address your article as a member of the SNP, that’s Scottish National Party.

    I think that Her Majesty would be delighted to become Elizabeth, Queen of Scots and add another realm to her collection, do you really think that the monarch would wish to see Scotland become a republic? I doubt that very much.

    You go on to mention that the current set up under devolution does not involve the Queen in any way. This is however untrue, the monarch is very much a component of Scottish governance as she is in the UK government. The Queen is currently required to give her royal assent to all Bills put through the Scottish Parliament before they become acts of law. This would simply continue under independence as it does now. (You may be aware of the red boxes in which documents from Westminster are transported to the Queen for approval, well there are blue ones which contain the documents from Holyrood). This is all set out in sections 28, 32 and 33 of the Scotland Act 1998, which established devolution. And she does open the Scottish Parliament, not in the same formal way she does it in Westminster, but none the less she has officially opened each session of the Scottish Parliament.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZ2GLasCoCs, here is a little video of the latest opening, from this year.

    This really negates your claim that we would need a Governor – General, if the Queen can carry out these constitutional functions now, then she can do so in an independent Scotland, without the need for some appointee to carry out these functions for her. I did have to laugh out loud when you said that the Scots would insist that a Gov.-Gen. would need to be a Scot. Erm, yeah, of course we would, the British Empire used to appoint people from these islands to go and govern other countries when we were their colonial masters. All of the modern Gov. Gens. are nationals of their own countries, they are independent countries now, it would be a complete insult to send a British person over there to keep an eye on things. However, it’s a moot point because we don’t need one in Scotland as the Queen maintains an official palace in Edinburgh and has a private estate at Balmoral she is in Scotland a fair amount in the course of the year and she can perform official state duties then.

    Oh, and the Queen also appoints the First Minister of Scotland as she does the Prime Minister, however the Scottish Parliament holds a vote to nominate the FM and then the Presiding Officer (that’s like the speaker) then informs the Queen of who has been nominated by the parliament, and so she simply approves that choice. So you do not need to worry about that, she has approved all of our FM’s in this way and whether they have been leading a coalition, a minority government or a majority government.

    When Donald dewar died in office the Queen was not dragged into the political mire by trying to replace him with a personal choice, the Parliament simply nominated a successor. And when Henry McLeish stood down he was replaced once parliament had nominated a successor. The Queen simply approved these decisions, therefore keeping her hands free from messy politics.

    Another issue you raise is the royal prerogative, there is no problem here either. In an independent Scotland there will be a written constitution which will lay out the role of the Monarch for the first time, which rights the monarch will be able to exercise will be laid down in law.

    Each government would have to ensure that the Queen was not put into an embarrassing situation where she spoke words publicly which insulted either country. I have every faith that this would not happen as I cannot recall one instance in an almost 60 year reign in which the queen has said anything offensive about any other realm of hers or foreign country for that matter. And I do not find it easy to imagine Alex Salmond putting anti-English rhetoric into a Scottish Queen’s speech, he has never said a bad word about England, and is indeed not anti-English. And here is where once again you cross that line into confusing England with Britain. We nationalists are not in the party because we want ‘FREEDOM’ Mel Gibson style, we laugh at people who talk like that, and strongly discourage it. In fact it is now known to be damaging to the SNP if we ever talk like that, surveys have been carried out which show that Scotland does not feel oppressed by England or any such 14th century nonsense. It takes a bit more sense that that to win Scots round to the idea of leaving the UK.

    The Armed forces are not a fraught issue. There will be a separate Scottish military and we will remove the nukes from our country, we don’t want them, and you can enjoy shouldering the £100billion it will cost to replace them without those helpful North Sea oil revenues. I have not yet read your ‘truth about North Sea Oil’ but I can guess at how desperate it is going to sound, and no doubt claiming that it is A. going to run out in a few years, or B. it’s English anyway, or both. Neither are true, sorry to burst you bubble there.

    As for there being immense chances of military disagreement, I doubt it very much somehow. We are not going to be setting any colonies which infringe on English trade. The only way that there will be a situation where the position of the dual monarchy is untenable would be if Scotland and England went to war, not likely in the 21st century, I think the UN and Nato would have something to say.

    And yes as fellow members of Nato we would expect the English Royal Navy to help out the Scottish Royal Navy if we were attacked by another power, as we would all help out other Nato nations in the same situation. All members of the commonwealth have the right to join the UK military, so if Scots did want to serve in the forces based in England they could do so.

    As for diplomacy, the 16 realms of which the Queen is now head of state do not always agree, but it is acknowledged that the Queen does not play a role in forming the policies at the root of these disagreements, as she stands above politics.

    I would be interested to hear why as an Englishman you are so against Scottish independence? If you can be bothered to reply.

    Hope this hasn’t upset you too much, anyway I must be off, I managed to convince my English flatmates and workmates to vote SNP back in May. But my grandma is from Yorkshire and she is somewhat more difficult to win round, I have to persuade her before the referendum, and I don’t know how much time I have to do it.

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