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monarchy

The diamond jubilee. Picture: Aurelien Guichard
The diamond jubilee. Picture: Aurelien Guichard

Picture: Aurelien Guichard

Every time I see the flag-waving crowds lining the streets, the flypasts and the curtsies, I can’t help wondering how they view our approach to our Royal Family in Pyongyang. “Oh wad some po’er the giftie gie us,” and all that.

The British, and indeed western, approach to North Korea is one of thinly-disguised contempt as we mock the “spontaneity” of their pro-leadership demonstrations and raise eyebrows at the wailing and tears that follow the death of a national leader.

As the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee comes to end, surely the North Koreans have every right to look at us in the same patronising way as we look at them.

Is there really much difference between the displays of affection for our Queen and the pro-leadership demonstrations of North Korea? After all, we can hardly lecture anybody about a ruling elite that passes down the leadership from one generation of the same family to the next.

But we are different from North Korea and in one absolutely fundamental aspect. Our Queen has no power, not really anyway. She is symbolic, she embodies an unidentifiable sense of country and culture and, as such she is both extremely important and utterly meaningless at the same time.

By celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee we are not lauding an omnipotent leader with the power to condemn any citizen to death, we are celebrating a sense of patriotism, a bond of common heritage and a feeling of place.

Alex Salmond said over the weekend that there were not a lot of street parties in Scotland because “we do things a little differently in Scotland”. And he was right. There is something uncomfortably ostentatious of the bunting, the cheers, the flag-waving and the overt Royalism that makes most of us squirm.

There might have been a few Scottish families where a short toast was raised to the Queen’s longevity on Saturday night, but not much more than that. Most Scots are ambivalent about the Royals, with some being outright hostile, but it would be very wrong to underestimate the important role she plays in national life, and not just in England.

Indeed, there is a danger that, with such a difference in overt displays of Royalism north and south of the Border, that Scots become alienated from the Royal Family, that they see it as a purely English institution. That would be a shame because it is Britishness that the Queen embodies, not Englishness and nobody should have to take part in a street party, wave a flag or adorn their house with bunting to appreciate it.

The jubilee has, quite rightly, sparked a debate in Scotland – should we get rid of the Royals? But like many others, every time I consider the question, I ask myself what system would we choose to replace it.

Most countries have presidencies, or some version of that system. Some, like the United States, have presidents with real power. Others, like Germany or Ireland, have largely ceremonial heads of state, but they are elected nonetheless. Do we want one of these? Do we want a president with power, even though that goes against our political traditions, or a president without power, in which case why elect them in the first place?

Denmark is the country de jour for the political classes at Holyrood at the moment. But what do the Danes have? A Royal Family and a democratic parliament. They manage to be both modern and traditional, liberal and undemocratic all at the same time.

We have a Queen who is hugely important in national terms but has very little real power, someone who is seen to embody the history and heritage of the country without expressing any views on anything political whatsoever.

The system is unfair, no one is going to argue with that. It is hereditary, it is patently not demographic or open to anyone else. But, and here is the odd thing, it works.

It is hard to defend something that appears unfair and outdated, undemocratic and privileged, but – and this is the real reason so many were on the streets of London last weekend – the monarchy works.

Somehow the Queen has managed to rise through the rush to political, economic and cultural modernity over the past six decades with her reputation and image enhanced, not tarnished.

Sure, we could replace the Queen with a President. Scotland may indeed decide to replace the Royal Family with an elected head of state if we opt for independence. That would probably be fine, but would it work as well as the current system? Probably not. Would tens of thousands of people crowd on to the streets of London – or Edinburgh – to celebrate the service of President Salmond, or even President Connery? Or, and this more likely, someone who is seen as a slightly grandiose version of a Lord Provost?

Like most north of the Border, the jubilee generally passed me by over the weekend. I flicked on to the concert on the television on Monday night but that was it. But that doesn’t mean I don’t understand what all those people were celebrating by turning out in their tens of thousands in the rain to watch the pageant down the Thames.

They were celebrating an ideal and a symbol of national community. They were not lauding an all-powerful ruler of an undemocratic country or expressing their love for a monarch they believe is the nearest thing to God.

That’s what makes us different and, however they look at us from Pyongyang, there is much of the rest of the world that realises – and is jealous – of what we have.

Our monarchy is anachronistic, it doesn’t fit modern political models, it is privileged and unfair but it works: and sometimes, that is more important than anything else.

Queen Elizabeth the First (yes, the First)

Queen Elizabeth the First (yes, the First)

By John Knox

The Queen’s diamond jubilee has set me thinking about monarchy. Of course I am against it. Every democrat must be. “All men are created equal” is a tenet of the modern world. And yet the Queen has done a good job, for 60 years. So I am wondering how I square this particular diamond.

Elizabeth I (Editor’s note: the other Elizabeth I of British history was queen of England, not Scotland or the UK) has represented us well, she has held us together, she has given us many happy days of TV coverage, hours of talking points, miles of newsprint and hundreds of web pages. A visit from her is a magical moment of reflection, congratulation, re-dedication for towns, schools, hospitals, worthwhile projects, even factories. Yes, the same could be done by a president but somehow the Queen does it so well. Perhaps we just have to accept that it is one of the endearing twists of history that Britain has hung on to its monarchy. And we are not alone, currently 44 of the 196 countries in the world have kept their monarchs, in one form or another.

The cult of celebrity has, no doubt, given the role a new lease of life. I think, though, that this is one of the cruel aspects of the institution. The Queen and the other royals have to live their lives in the goldfish bowl of publicity. That must be hard to bear and the Queen has borne it patiently for 60 years. Those in line for the throne have no choice of career, no freedom of movement, a strict series of duties, a lot of swotting to do and the fear that a madman or terrorist could attack them at any moment.

It is easy and shocking to look back on the monarchs of the past and shake our heads over their mistakes, their extravagance, their cruelty. But perhaps any form of leadership might have been as awful in those times. The kings and queens of the past were surround by some pretty nasty people. Not all nobles were noble and life in those pre-democratic days was often poor, lonely, nasty, brutish and short.

Take our own Scottish history, for instance. Scotland has had 39 monarchs, only 5 of whom have been of good quality – Canmore, Bruce, James VI, Victoria and Elizabeth.

It is not a good record and underlines the fact that monarchy is a very human institution. Emperors are even worse – Edward Gibbon could only recommend 5 out of 140 in his History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Presidents come somewhere in between – five of the 44 American Presidents have been of high quality – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson and F D Roosevelt.

The first real king of Scotland was Gaelic-speaking Malcolm Canmore (or Bighead) who was crowned in 1058. He united a country of five different tribes – the Scots and Celts in the west, the Picts in the east, the Angles in the Lothians and the Britons in Strathclyde. (The Norse lands would join later.)

Malcolm marched through slaughter to the throne, killing first Macbeth and then Macbeth’s step-son Lulach. His wife Margaret was one of the invading Normans from the continent and was a civilising influence. Together they established the feudal system of government and the Roman Catholic religion. Their sons, Alexander and then David, carried on the good work. William the Lion (because he chose the lion rampant as his flag) was less successful and poor old Alexander III fell off his horse on the way to Kinghorn. His granddaughter, the Maid of Norway, was briefly Queen before she too drowned at sea. That left the way open for the usurper John Balliol, the son of the ambitious Countess of Galloway who went about the country building abbeys and gifting colleges to Oxford University.

Balliol was a disaster. He was known as Toom Tabard or Turncoat because in 1295 he signed up an alliance with France that has brought trouble ever since. The very next year it brought Edward I north to punish the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar. It took William Wallace and Robert the Bruce 19 long and bloody years before the English were sent home to think again.

Robert the Bruce was no innocent either. He dispatched his rival Red Comyn in a disgraceful duel in a church in Dumfries. But he went on to establish a working parliament and to organise the Declaration of Arbroath, the founding document of the Scottish state.

When he died in 1329 – some say of leprosy – his son David was only 5 years old and this was a pattern which was to haunt the next line of kings, the Stewarts. It is a recurring weakness in the monarchical system. James I was just 12 when he became king, James II was 6, James III was 8, James IV was 15, James V was 1, Mary Queen of Scots was just one week old and James VI one year. Did the nobles form a council of wise men to govern the country while their kings and queens grew up ? Not likely, they schemed against each other. This is a weakness in the whole system of aristocracy.

It is also a very unpredictable system. In 1603, for instance, an extraordinary thing happened. James VI was invited to be king of England as well as Scotland. Today’s equivalent would be Britain inviting King Albert of Belgium to take over from Queen Elizabeth. The courtiers of England – and Wales and Ireland we must add – had their reasons. Queen Elizabeth had just given them 44 glorious years of prosperity and progress but she left no successor. They were on the look-out for a Protestant, rather than a Catholic, and James had been brought up a Protestant.

But he was curious mixture of wisdom and folly. He commissioned the King James Bible which brilliantly united the religious factions of the day and gave the English language its sure foundation. Along with trade and natural geography it cemented the Union, and the social union, which has lasted ever since. But James also published another book, True Law, which outlined his theory of the divine right of kings in which the king – not parliament – is the true representative of God on earth. His even more foolish son, Charles I, pushed this idea to extremes and lost the support of parliament – and also his head.

What the kings had failed to realise was that the world was changing. It is another weakness of the monarchy, and indeed any system that isolates the rulers from ordinary life (MPs with their expenses, top executives with their bonuses, to cite more recent examples). The Reformation had set every individual free to interpret God, religion, the Bible, indeed the theory of everything, for themselves.

The agricultural and industrial revolutions had created whole new classes of citizens – between the aristocracy and the peasants – and given them spending power. And the idea of human rights was beginning to form in people’s minds in which the same laws applied to every man and woman and that everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

What followed the Civil War of the 1620s therefore was a constitutional monarchy under which parliament wields power and the monarch is only a figurehead. He, or more importantly, she (Victoria and Elizabeth) could only wield influence by setting fashions and being talked about.

I can see the attraction of the monarchy. There is a part of us which wants to leave the troubles of government to the experts. Scientists and engineers are especially fond of this approach. The general public are more sceptical thesedays, they have been misled by the experts so many times … over nuclear power, food shortages, DDT, mad-cow disease, swine flu and, most recently, over the banking system and the economy.

There is also something child-like deep inside us which rather likes the paternalistic approach – leaving difficult issues to a father-figure who will take care of us. We like the idea of continuity and security. We also like celebrity, to follow a famous person’s life and loves and fashions. I guess in countries where there is no monarch, they have to invent one…a movie star, a sporting hero, a president and his family.

But in a way, all this is side-stepping responsibility. It is the lazy man’s way out. And, when the chips are down, it will not do. Republicanism is a braver way of life and brave people take to the streets when the monarch or the aristocracy or any elite class, do something outrageous or govern badly for a long time, as the Soviet leaders and now the Arab leaders are finding out.

In the end, sovereignty lies with the people. So long as a monarch simply represents sovereignty, and does not usurp it or lose touch with it, then he or she is doing valuable work. But I, for one, would not like to do the job. So, thank you Queen Elizabeth for your 60 years of service and do not overdo it in your Diamond Jubilee year.

qatar1Willie Rennie, the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, was forced to apologise today after party workers created a poster depicting Alex Salmond in Arab dress.

Mr Rennie said he was very embarrassed by the actions of Lib Dem workers who had been trying to draw attention to the first minister’s decision to compare Scotland with Qatar while on a tour of the Gulf states.

The poster, which went out on the Scottish Lib Dems Twitter feed, stated: “Salmond hails ‘similarities’ between Qatar and Scotland. A glimpse into Salmond’s independent Scotland perhaps?”

Underneath the headline was a mocked-up picture of Mr Salmond wearing Arab dress and walking a camel through the desert.

Alongside were three bullet points: “Absolute monarchy controls all aspects of life; Gay rights suppressed and no legal recognition of same sex marriage; Death penalty used for crimes against the state.”

It was finished with the question: “Mr Salmond’s independent Scotland?”

Mr Rennie was quick to disown the poster, make sure it was removed from the web and to apologise publicly for the mock-up.

Speaking on BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland, Mr Rennie said: “I apologise for the offence that has clearly been caused by the cartoon on the first minister’s remarks in Qatar. Although I did not approve its publication, I take responsibility for it. It has been interpreted in ways that were not intended. It has now been withdrawn. I apologise.”

However, Mr Rennie’s apology for the picture did not stop others from pursuing the more general point – about Scotland’s similarities with Qatar.

Former Labour Downing Street adviser John McTernan tweeted: “Alex Salmond: Scotland is remarkably like Qatar. How? Unelected government? Sharia law? Anti-gay laws? Foreign workers = 85% of population?”

Despite strong objections from others on Twitter, Mr McTernan continued with other tweets through the day defending his position, at one point adding: “I think while the FM be-struts the world he takes the prize for pompous absurdity.”

Mr McTernan even drew a comparison with previous countries which had been linked favourable to Scotland by senior Nationalists in the past, particularly the so-called “Arc of Prosperity” nations Iceland and Ireland.

“Qataris should be very afraid,” he tweeted.

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Street parties all across Scotland <em>Picture: Chris Upson</em>

Street parties all across Scotland Picture: Chris Upson

By James Browne

Two people you’ve never met got married today.

The bride, Kate Middleton, wore a dress. The groom, William Windsor (or possibly Wales, or Cambridge, or Saxe-Coburg-Gotha), did not.

Millions upon millions of your pounds were spent on security measures such as monitoring those who have an unhealthy interest in the Royal Family. Surprisingly, this does not include watching an incident from the romantic lives of complete strangers on the telly or lining the streets to stare at them.

Wall to wall, dewy-eyed, hysterical coverage available in all the usual
outlets…

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The Church of the Holy Rude. <em>Picture: Son of Groucho</em>

The Church of the Holy Rude. Picture: Son of Groucho

By Elizabeth McQuillan

The Church of the Holy Rude is just below Stirling castle. It is allegedly the second oldest building in Stirling (the castle being the first). Founded in 1129, it was razed to the ground in a fire in 1405, along with the rest of Stirling, and rebuilt in the 1400’s.

That is moderately interesting, but here is the very interesting bit. The Church of the Holy Rude is the only church in the UK other than Westminster Abbey to have held a coronation and still be an actively used church today. In this church on 29th July 1567, the young James VI of Scotland was crowned, which is a key point in the history of the Scottish nation.

Less than a year before, Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, had witnessed her infant son being baptized into the Roman Catholic faith within the chapel of Stirling Castle itself. With her supporters by her side, there was a three-day hooley to celebrate the event. While the Protestant lords wouldn’t go into the chapel for the ceremony itself, they did let their hair down and party for the three days.

Unfortunately Mary Stuart’s unblemished and powerful position hit a bit of a glitch when she was suspected of being involved in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley. He was her first cousin, and reputedly a bully and a violent drunk. She and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, one of her closest and most trusted noblemen, were certainly in the frame. And it didn’t help her cause when Mary went on to marry the earl only three months after the murder.

This murder story remains unsolved, with many versions of events suggested, but we can only guess at the truth.

At any rate, it gave the Scottish lords the reason they needed to rise against her. She was arrested and held at Loch Leven Castle, and there forced to abdicate in favour of her son, Prince James. This event was the turning point in the struggle between the English-supported Protestants and the French supported Roman Catholics.

Little James, only 13 months old, and in the safekeeping of the Scottish lords, needed a quick coronation in a Protestant church. The church of the Holy Rude served that function. John Knox preached the coronation sermon, and the Bishop of Orkney crowned the young King. Only five Earls and eight Lords attended the ceremony, which itself was only twenty minutes long for fear of an attack by the Roman Catholics.

Returned swiftly to Stirling Castle, the young king remained there where he would have been coached and tutored to serve his role as a Protestant king. The famous scholar George Buchanan was his mentor.

In 1603, following the death of Queen Elizabeth, King James VI of Scotland also became King James I of England.