Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A future monarchy for a future Scotland

It is one of the smaller talking points in the debate about Scotland's future but in the month of the 60th anniversary of the Coronation the question of who should be the head of state is still quite an emotive topic among many. Although the unionist politicians are keen to throw the promise of keeping the Queen onto the long list of 'nationalist claims' it is more a matter of fact that the Queen, on day one of independence, will be Scotland's sovereign.

Not only is it Alex Salmond's express wish to retain the monarchy it is also highly unlikely she can be removed from her role in Scotland without first consulting the public. The Queen, with the best health provision possible and remaining in remarkable shape for an 87 year-old woman could easily to be with us beyond her 100th birthday in 2026 a whole decade after Scotland's projected year of independence. So the majority of Scotland's population with its former unionists and people who are open-minded on the issue of the monarchy are going to vote to keep the Queen and her heirs.


The current Royal Standard as used in Scotland

I won't make a secret that I'm one of those who would vote to keep the Queen as head of state. But I also believe the monarchy needs its reforms. However, the question of the monarchy is secondary to the much bigger questions about Scotland's economic performance and pursuit of social justice.

It is my belief that with independence for Scotland will come new responsibilities for the Royal Family so lets consider how the monarchy should operate north of the border. First of all, Scotland's monarch, though the same person, should be distinct from the monarch of the UK. That means different succession rules should be possible which could potentially mean a divergence of the lines. For example, the current ban on Roman Catholics taking the throne could be overturned in Scotland while remaining the same in England. Which means we could have an interesting though unlikely scenario. Imagine Charles III, a few years into his reign, decided to convert to Catholicism. He would then have to abdicate the throne in England and be replaced by his brother Andrew with sadly the gender discrimination ban not being applicable retrospectively since Anne II would be a far more popular monarch. But in Scotland Charles would remain King because we wouldn't have that ban. Meaning the next generation would see Queen Beatrice in England (which might confuse older generations of Dutch people) and King William IV in Scotland. And on that latter point it would be King William IV not King William V as so far there have only been three previous King Williams in Scotland and this difference in identification must be enshrined into the role of the monarch north of the border.
Central to my belief in having a monarch as Head of State is the need for a degree of democratic accountability. It would not be contradictory to the monarch ascending the throne through birthright. First of all Scotland can take the lead in holding referenda on the subject of the monarchy and this is where I will reveal exclusively an idea that will cement the relationship between citizen and monarch.

The first referendum on the subject could be held shortly after Scotland becomes independent to establish whether or not the people of Scotland are comfortable with the system of a hereditary monarchy. The result is likely to be a strong 'Yes'. Following the ascent of a new monarch a referendum can be held in the year or so before the coronation to allow the people of Scotland to formally approve the monarch and then his or her crowning will involve a Scottish element which will only happen by virtue of a Yes vote. This will be the ceremonial confirmation that he or she is King or Queen of Scotland. Although a separate Scottish coronation will be a good idea I don't mind if it's a joint coronation at Westminster Abbey.

There should then be a referendum a generation later to renew the monarch's right to remain head of state. I know many of my fellow Yes voters will not like the idea of keeping the monarchy. But the referenda will be favourable to both republicans and monarchists. It will provide republicans with the opportunity to vote against the new monarch or the system of monarchy and it will provide monarchists with the formal voice to say 'we want the monarch to be our head of state.'

The future King William IV of Scotland (V of England)

The Queen's chief representative in Scotland, lets call him or her the Lieutenant Governor (as the job's known in the Isle of Man), should remain answerable to the Scottish Parliament. The LG would be appointed by the monarch and approved by parliament. Whenever issues arise surrounding the monarchy the LG should appear before the relevant parliamentary committee to answer questions. And if the monarch is able to refuse royal ascent it is the monarch themselves that should appear before parliament following any such refusal (which is unlikely to occur). The parliament could hold a vote of no confidence in the monarch that would allow another referendum to be held on the monarch's continuation. The holding of a referendum should therefore be signed into effect by a parliamentary representative not the monarch and this procedure should be enshrined into the constitution along with the monarch's other responsibilities.

Additionally it is important for the monarch to pay his or her fair share of taxes. The monarchy should only be funded by Scottish taxpayer's money as much as to cover royal duties and engagements in Scotland and the funding should not extend to other members of the royal family unless they are carrying out an official engagement in Scotland. The monarch should also be required to hold a valid passport and show it where everyone else would be required to do the same. And also the monarch must have an official surname.

A Scottish monarch can still be subject to democratic accountability

I fully appreciate and respect the point of view of others that there should be no monarchy especially given so many countries in Europe are republics. However, I am a sentimentalist and personally wish to keep the Queen as head of state both in England and Scotland. The fact that the monarchy has survived shows we have been able to develop democracy without revolution and I am pleased that the monarchy can comfortably co-exist with democracy. England's parliament does have a long way to go before it becomes the perfect parliamentary democracy which Scotland has very much achieved with a fully elected and proportional chamber. But hopefully Westminster will get there eventually as England's proportional parliament with a reformed House of Lords.

Call me an optimist if you like but it is my belief that Scotland will continue to set a standard for England to follow.

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