The dust now seems to have settled on the result of the Scottish referendum on independence from the UK. For the time being, at least, Scotland will remain as part of the union.
As to be expected, Elizabeth Windsor, Head of State for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (the correct name for the union comprising Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England), made a statement on the matter. Part of that statement, issued from the monarch’s estate at Balmoral, Scotland, on 19 September, 2014, read as follows:
“For many in Scotland and elsewhere, there will be strong feelings and contrasting emotions – among family, friends and neighbours. That, of course, is the nature of the robust democratic tradition we enjoy in this country. But I have no doubt that these emotions will be tempered by an understanding of the feelings of others.”
There are those, of course, whose emotions will not be greatly tempered by the current monarch’s use of the term “the robust democratic tradition we enjoy in this country”. There is something extremely ironic in the use of such words by a Head of State who enjoys a position due to the historically privileged position of her family, who, moreover, is not, and has never been, subject to democratic election, has tenure of privileges and position for a lifetime and is substantially reimbursed for all this from the public purse. Not much democratic tradition there, then!
I am not in a position to comment in detail about Elizabeth Windsor’s emotions and her promise that she and her family “will do all we can to help and support you in this important task to work constructively for the future of Scotland and indeed all parts of this country.” Of one thing I am certain, however, Elizabeth and all of the Windsor clan will take no part in doing something constructive about removing the undemocratic situation in which the family finds itself and to which it tenaciously clings.
Speaking of Elizabeth Windsor and her family, what is, or should be, their position vis-à-vis the so-called “bedroom tax” and any “mansion tax” brought in by a future British government?
After all, many of the homes the family live in have far more bedrooms than can possibly be required and most, if not all, are valued well in excess of what a mansion tax will set as a minimum limit. At a time when all major British political parties are speaking of further austerities within the public purse, is there not a case to be made for royal down-sizing and austerity?
Indeed, is it not time for radically separating the tasks that a Head of State is required to perform from the ostentatious celebrity charade that is the Royal Family?
Related to the above is the question of when this royal charade actually began? In his currently running BBC television programme, “The Long Shadow”, the historian David Reynolds gives us a clue.
Reynolds reviews the post-First World War period and, particularly, examines how political and ideological divisions came about in the immediate aftermath of World War 1. He looks at the three competing visions that developed across the western world in this period – Lenin and communism, Hitler and Mussolini and fascism, and Woodrow Wilson and democracy. He notes the toppling of numerous monarchies throughout Europe.
Most interestingly, Reynolds comments on how, in the UK, politics moved towards the ideological centre and party coalitions were formed, with the consequences of mainstream policy formation and decision making. In the process, the German background of the existing monarchical line was airbrushed and George V was repackaged as a “symbol of the nation”.
David Reynolds considers that the architects of this rebranding were various figures of the British “establishment”. This would necessarily include politicians, the Anglican Church, the judiciary and, very likely, the military. A single figure, the head of state – a monarch, was successfully transformed into “the royal family”. The myth continued but in a new guise.
This “royal irony” could be the mother of all ironies!
Those familiar with this writer will know that I have often argued for the status within the UK of Northern Ireland, that is, that too often Northern Ireland, otherwise known as Ulster, has been left on the side-lines vis-à-vis its British identity. This is most brazenly seen when in recent years, and almost without exception, British sporting teams have been called “Great Britain”, or “Team GB”.
Realistically, as well as technically, Great Britain is an island containing the UK countries of Wales, Scotland and England, but not Northern Ireland. Therefore, teams representing the UK should not be called “Team GB”! What is wrong with “Team UK”?
With this in mind, I was amused this past week to read an article that spoke of the reaction of Northern Ireland to the Scottish independence referendum. Most of the fall-out from this event has focused on the umbrage that England, the largest partner in the great British union, has taken with the promise of more devolved powers for the Scottish parliament. As usual, Northern Ireland opinion has tended to be ignored, or, at least, not heard very loudly.
Northern Ireland has always had close links with Scotland. Many immigrants went to Ulster from Scotland. Scottish west coast seaports are a favoured way for Ulster people to enter the Great Britain mainland. My maternal grandparents left Ireland for Scotland just before my mother was born (my late mother always considered that she was Irish).
If Scotland had said “Yes” to independence, then Northern Ireland would have been squeezed between an independent Eurozone state to the south (the Irish Republic – Eire) and an independent (likely) Eurozone state a few miles across the sea to the east. The national flags conspicuously seen around Ulster would have been drained of some colour and the Orange Order on both sides of the waters may have had cause to question some loyalties.
So, as one newspaper put it, “We had people who believe in the political unity of the island of Ireland supporting the political partition of the island of Britain, whilst people who supported the continuing partition of Ireland tramped the streets in support of the unity of Britain”.
To put it another way, Northern Ireland wanted Scotland to stay within the UK, but itself wants no part of the Irish Republic. On the other hand, Scotland had a referendum on withdrawing from the UK, yet wished Ulster to remain as part of the UK and not join with the Irish Republic
To emphasise the irony, it seems that a bar on the (Roman Catholic and pro-Irish union) Falls Road in Belfast paid for a pro-independence “Yes” billboard. So too, on the eve of the referendum poll graffiti artists climbed halfway up Black Mountain – visible from almost everywhere in Belfast – and painted a “Yes Scotland” message. Meanwhile, in support of the campaign of “No” to independence, the Loyal Orange Order held street marches in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh, during the week before the referendum vote.
The British Isles certainly have their fair share of irony. Ironies abound! Yet, one irony remains quietly in the background, that is, even if the people of Scotland had voted in their referendum to leave the UK, Elizabeth Windsor would remain, at least for the foreseeable future, as the Head of State for Scotland.
The remaining union of British countries would have complained about such things as the use of sterling, the matter of Scottish oil for Scotland, border controls and passport requirements, but it seems that there would have been no argument about a British monarch remaining as the Head of State for the independent nation of Scotland. Strange people these British!
Postlude: When I worked in community organising with World Vision UK, we tried to adequately respond to the situation in Belfast by having two projects – one in the Roman Catholic Falls Road and another at the top of the Protestant Shankill Road. The arrangement seemed to work and I always went that extra mile and stayed in the Falls Road. A Protestant minister of religion having a room not at a neutral, non-sectarian “inn” but in the Roman Catholic cathedral! Rather ironical really, but it does indicate that you don’t have to be a royalist to have some privileges.