How’s your forelock?
It’s been some ten days for a republican, ten days in which everyone recognises that you have a right to object to a hereditary monarchy one one condition – you don’t exercise that right in any way whatsoever. You can think it but if you say it or, hell forfend, write it down then that’s quite a different matter.
Actually (as you may have noted) while I’m very glad indeed that some people did try to express their objections, strategically speaking it’s not a great time to do so. I incline to quiet disengagement and patience when dealing with matters of this sort.
That is partly because I am and have always been uncomfortable with taking any kind of satisfaction or seeing an opportunity in the death of another human. But much more to the point, it just isn’t very effective. It doesn’t work very well.
There are two things this does not mean. It does not mean that the alternative is the kind of stomach-churning, establishment-arse-licking display put on by Nicola Sturgeon and particularly Ian Blackford. Quiet (preferably silent) dignity is the right approach for a supporter of Scottish independence, not clear and apparent glee that you’re at the top table with the big boys of the British establishment.
And nor does it mean letting it go, sucking it up and just accepting that the world will never change, that our great grandchildren will be tugging their forelocks just like we do. Republicanism gets forced out of the agenda when royalism is on the agenda and then finds no space to return once the royalism subsides. So we need to make space for ourselves if anything is going to change.
To understand the dynamic of why this always proves so difficult and how to get round it it is worth pausing to understand why the monarchy is so adept at shutting us out. The answer is actually very straightforward – a key purpose of the monarchy is to politicise the personal and to personalise the political.
Royalism is orientated around the personal lives of the royals – births, marriages, anniversaries, funerals. They make these all these occasions very highly political, but maintain a clear personal core. It is very difficult to wade into a political debate which is predicated on someone’s wedding or funeral without it seeming insensitive. And then afterwards there is no news ‘hook’ for republicans when the royals aren’t making the running. We have no set pieces.
A key purpose of the monarchy is to politicise the personal and to personalise the political
The transition from Queen Elizabeth to King Charles is very important for this reason. It opens up a field of possibilities that republicans (and particularly pro-independence Scottish republicans) need to take advantage of. So here are three key things that I think we should do.
First, we need to politicise the ceremonial, or rather we need to de-ceremonialise the political. Because the succession of a head of state (the Coronation) is not a personal matter and is not a meaningless excuse for some pageantry, it is a fundamental constitutional function and so highly political. We must treat it like that.
This means we must demonstrate and oppose vigorously and make it absolutely clear that there is a very strong undercurrent in the UK that opposes the Coronation. But much more to the point, this is about Scotland and it is important that we make it absolutely clear that Scotland is in no way unified around monarchism – quite the opposite.
There are lots of things we can do to make this work and we need to be imaginative and creative to really make sure we make an impact. We will not get another shot at a purely ceremonial and political royal event in the near future (the next will be the coronation of Willian) and so this one must count. The window opens briefly so it has to be a focus for reform.
The next thing that ideally we should do is take steps now to make sure that this is seen publicly as a political event, to make sure it is framed that way early on. A good way to do this would be to take a legal action against the BBC in advance to highlight the fact that its Charter requires genuine political balance on challenged political matters.
Think about the period of time in which a small fraction of the ‘experts’ were still challenging the evidence for climate change and the BBC gave them equal screen time. A legal action to seek an interpretation of the BBC Charter in relation to the appointment of a head of state and whether that is political or non-political would frame that early.
Remember a couple of months ago where Britain was banning RT because it was clearly a propaganda outfit? Remember when we were told the BBC was nothing like that? This is the crunch moment. It has clearly used the Queen’s funeral for propaganda but has used the ‘its a historical and personal event’ to hide behind. It must not be allowed to do that again.
The third thing republicans have to think seriously about is whether we are going to continue to allow policy on independence to be written by the hard-core monarchists in the SNP, tiny minority as they are. A free vote for a republican stance would almost certainly sweep the floor at an SNP conference.
The problem has been self-censorship. Republicans do not generally feel the effect of being a royal subject on a day to day basis. That is the trick in having a ceremonial head of state – on an average day it has no impact on our lives. There are always so many other important things.
And hence the large number of pro-indy republicans who have been persuaded to ‘curtsy for independence’ (it’s a version of wheeshting for indy but involves feigning a love for monarchs you don’t feel, or at least a willingness to stand politely while others do).
Britain is a country of poor people with some rich people in it and the monarchy is the ultimate symbol not of what is right about Britain but what is wrong
Of course as always there is a very specific reason why you’re told this must happen – it’s because its about capturing the monarchist vote. Like supporting the ‘let’s do austerity’ Growth Commission was about capturing the ‘middle classes’. Like not using the powers of the Scottish Parliament to, well, do anything is about ‘reassuring investors’.
Again and again we’re all told that if only we sell out just a little bit more, cede more ground to the right-wing conservatives in the SNP’s hierarchy, then they’ll deliver for us. Well, we’ve done it – even I accepted a period of Elizabethan rule for an independent Scotland in 2014. So where are these votes?
Seriously, get your self out to Larkhall, or rural Aberdeenshire, or the villages around Balmoral. Or show me polling – any polling. Or, you know, give me any evidence whatsoever that selling our souls has delivered votes. Because it hasn’t, because it was never going to. If the monarchy is within a mile of being make or break for you, you’re not voting for independence. Full stop.
Meanwhile the SNP has gone so far in reassuring the wealthy and the powerful that it isn’t a threat that it has almost nothing to say to the working classes any more. Blackford and Sturgeon are now in one Edinburgh Festival timeloop, playing to their true audience which is London establishment liberals, telling them what they want to hear on repeat. The Enough is Enough movement is a foreign country to them.
And if we’re losing the working class, what exactly are we saying to the young about monarchy? They are a generation which will finally nail Scotland as an indisputably republican nation. Are the SNP’s landed gentry chums really more important to us than Scotland’s youth?
Those who want to know why there is so little anger in Scotland at the continued failure of Britain to give ground on Scotland’s constitutional future might reflect on the fact that no-one in Britain looks more comfortable inside the British state than the leader of the SNP Westminster opposition and the ‘nationalist’ First Minister of Scotland.
(And here I’d like to throw a now-rare positive comment in the direction of the Scottish Greens who have at least avoided taking the knee for the sake of approval.)
If we want to fight a fight against a Britain which is now (even according to the Financial Times) a country of poor people with a few rich people in it, perhaps we need to, you know, say things like that Britain is a country of poor people with some rich people in it and the monarchy is the ultimate symbol not of what is right about Britain but what is wrong.
So the third thing I would do is mount a campaign simply to overturn the leadership diktat that makes crown-loving a mandatory emotion for SNP members. Get a motion to Spring conference to state that Scotland will have an elected head of state – you know, like in a proper country, not this pound-shilling-and-pence embarrassment we live in.
Because in the end that is what I have mainly been feeling this week – not anger, not frustration, not radicalism but embarrassment. A window is opening up for us. Scottish republicans who support independence (i.e. the vast, vast majority of independence supporters) need to decide whether we truly want to commit to living in a little royal colony for years to come after we break free.
If you think that through and conclude that both morally and strategically you’ve had enough, the above steps would change the picture in Scotland completely.