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.