CommonSpace columnist David Carr reflects on Scotland’s uneasy relationship with the monarchy
SO those pesky Jocks won’t pay for the queen. Except we will. One wonders who the stooshie was drummed up for? Was it was just part of the drip drip of Scotophobia? But the election had already delivered a job lot of that. More likely it was to stir up Scot-on-Scot animosity.
I know that I live inside the indy bubble, but it seems to me that monarchy isn’t really a thing in Scotland. There’s the whole FTP/FTQ palaver, sure, which helps nobody. But that aside – one doesn’t raise the issue among strangers. Just in case. Am I right?
At indyref, the SNP seemed feart of it. The frequent criticism is that they’ll do what they think the voters will buy, rather than leading the way. So Nicola’s ‘Scotland’s Future’ reassured us that we could keep our treasured monarchy. It was the easy option.
I have yet to meet an SNP member who is not a good republican.
I shall give the them this, though – I have yet to meet an SNP member who is not a good republican.
And yet, and yet – I recall driving across Glasgow, literally from the furthest southern edge to the furthest northern edge on the day of some national celebration or other – The Golden Jubilee? I saw two Butcher’s Aprons (one in Ibrox, one in the high flats at Anniesland.). But no street parties.
Meantime my friends in Englandshire – not necessarily monarchists – were Facebooking me about barbecues for the extra bank holiday. Fair enough. We were the ones missing out on a party.
We seem to do things differently here.
Are we unusual? It’s worthwhile casting an eye over nearby monarchies to see (Lesley Riddoch’s phrase) ‘What Looks Normal?’
Norway’s Haakon has eliminated the distance between monarch and people. Sweden’s dynasty was founded by a Napoleonic officer, headhunted for the job, who – inconveniently – had a ‘Death To Kings!’ tattoo.
Lately they have bought in overmuch to celebrity culture. Denmark’s Margarethe is respected for her intelligence. Her dad was a total dude with major ink. Nobody bothers much about the Dutch – which probably means they’re doing OK.
Plucky Little Belgium’s monarchy was the most murderous colonial power in history (which, when you think that the runner-up is Britain, is some going). They’ve recovered from their corruption scandals.
What do Scots think? Do we want to retain a cherished institution? Dare we trample on the grave of St Diana? Is overt republicanism off-limits?
It’s hard to argue that monarchy is de facto bad.
Spain? They’re the outlier. Many openly regard Juan Carlos as a Fasca. It’s true. He was anointed by Franco. And La Infanta is irredeemably corrupt.
Some speak of a ‘slimmed-down, Scandinavian-style monarchy’. Royals on bikes. Others of a slimmed down, Russian-style monarchy. God knows, we have the empty mineshafts.
Let’s be blunt – we must soon consider the succession. Bertha is popular. That Olympic parachute thing was cool. Her faults are hushed up. Next up is Charles. A jolly nice chap over a dram in The Clutha, perhaps. But really? His lad is been carefully groomed.
What do Scots think? Do we want to retain a cherished institution? Dare we trample on the grave of St Diana? Is overt republicanism off-limits? Is the conversation too raw? Or are folk not bothered either way?
We must decide very soon. But first we must do some analysis.
Let’s consider, then, whether the British monarchy, specifically, is a good thing.
“They do a lot for the country”. It’s not always clear what is meant by this. Tourist revenues are mentioned. But evidence suggests that few are attracted specifically by Buck House, popular though our royal slebs are overseas.
I also observe that various republics attract tourists, not least France, the United States.
I acknowledge, however, that they do fine work as the Middle Eastern marketing division of BAE Systems.
I don’t give undue weight to the “shocking waste of money” argument. There are many areas in life where return-on-investment is not immediately apparent. Art? There is no direct link between fancy carriages and food banks – the causal chain is more subtle.
The monarchy both reflects and reinforces the idea that we must know our place.
But what is the monarchy? It’s just there. A symbol of Britishness. So what do we mean by Britishness?
It’s all about shared history. Remnants of the past stay with us and the monarchy is a faint echo of feudal times. Should its continued existence bother us? Or is it just a human heritage site, to be cherished and preserved?
Well – a society’s institutions are both thrown up by and hold in place the way we do business. Our way of doing business requires a few folk to own lots of stuff and lots of folk to punt money upwards to them.
The monarchy both reflects and reinforces the idea that we must know our place. If we question our lovely traditions, the whole house of cards will come tumbling down, we’ll be out of jobs and who’ll pay the mortgage? The monarchy must be preserved as the pillar of all that is decent.
If that’s fine – away and buy a copy of Hello. There’ll be lovely pictures of baby – Charlotte, is it?
If not – vive la republique. Aux armes, et caetera.
Picture courtesy of Michael Garnett