Sunday, August 4, 2013

Prince George’s Birth Stirs Up Anti-Monarchy Vitriol in Scottish Separatist Campaign

Some Scots nationalists are breaking ranks, vowing that no King George will ever rule Scotland again.
When the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton, began sporting a baby bump last year, one thing was certain: in approximately nine months’ time, the royal family would receive another bump—the bump in approval ratings that always accompanies a royal birth, wedding, or even death.  What no one predicted was the bumps the birth would create in the road to Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum.  Nothing unites Britons as much as royalty, and in the exuberance over the birth of Prince George last month Britons, at least in England, haven’t felt so united in their love of the institution of the monarchy since George’s paternal grandmother never came out of the other end of that French tunnel back in 1997.  So the royal birth was already a minefield for Scottish nationalists, whose relations with the throne have been at best ambivalent since the kingdoms of England and Scotland merged to become the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707.  So far, they have tried to appeal to Scots that they can love, and keep, the royal family while still seeking independence.  But the head of the pro-independence “Yes Scotland” referendum campaign threw that strategy under the bus this week by launching a war of words on the British Crown.

Dennis Canavan, a former independent Labour Party M.S.P. (member of Scottish Parliament), heads Yes Scotland, charged by the ruling Scottish National Party (S.N.P.) with convincing Scots to vote for independence in a referendum planned for next year.  Canavan’s ostensible boss, Alex Salmond, who is S.N.P. leader and Scotland’s First Minister (i.e. premier), had been reassuring voters that much that they cherish will remain the same: an independent Scotland would use the British pound (at least until it makes sense to adopt the euro on its own), stay in the European Union (E.U.) (though precedent is unclear on this) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and keep Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state.

Dennis Canavan says “yes!” to independence but not to the royal family.
But Canavan told a newspaper interviewer on July 29th that the monarchy was “an affront to democracy and a complete anachronism in modern 21st-century democracy,” adding, “As to the possibility of another King George, it is important to remember that true democracy is based on the sovereignty of the people rather than the sovereignty of any monarch.”  Canavan favors a second referendum, if the first is successful, to ask if Scots want to keep the monarchy.  This put a lot of daylight between him and Salmond.  But it also threatened to sow wariness among ordinary Scots who are motivated more by the desire for more home rule and prosperity than by any Irish-republican-type anti-English animosity and who would much rather become a fully independent Commonwealth realm, like Canada or New Zealand, than an ordinary, bland republic cast apart from the Commonwealth.

Her Majesty may live to see her dominions dwindle yet again.
In addition to the United Kingdom, whoever sits on the English throne is also head of state of the 15 other Commonwealth realms, which are mainly Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a host of medium to small Caribbean and South Pacific nations, the most prominent of which are Papua New Guinea and Jamaica.  The Queen is on all their stamps and money, and their sovereignty, in theory, rests with her legitimacy and that of the throne on which she sits.  Though she rarely visits these dominions, their Parliaments need to be ceremonially opened and closed each year by a viceroy (called a governor-general).  (Even Australian states and Canadian provinces and territories use, as their heads of state, viceregal governors and lieutenant governors, respectively.)  The Queen also has certain constitutional powers, such as the ability to dissolve Dominion parliaments or tinker with other workings of government.  By an unwritten agreement among these actually very de facto independent democracies, she never will.  Her role is decorative only.  But it is a decoration that men and women of Canavan’s political stripe find ugly.

The British Commonwealth today
In the Scottish political landscape, the local, Scottish branches of the U.K.’s three main parties—the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, and Labour—are all pro-unionist (not counting a rogue Labour for Independence faction).  Scotland’s ruling S.N.P. has had to wrangle with its smaller uneasy pro-independence allies, the Scottish Socialist Party (S.S.P.) and Scottish Green Party, which are republican—just as he has had to wrangle with them over questions like NATO and the euro (the pacifist, decentralist Greens dislike both).  Now it seems he can’t even keep his inner circle on message.

Alex Salmond
And he needs to: support for Scottish independence hovers around 35-36%, a four-point drop from Ocober 2012.  (Ironically, Scottish independence is a more popular idea in England than in Scotland itself.)  Unless he can push those numbers up, it will make a mockery of his avowed plan to follow the strategy used in Quebec in the mid-1990s, when a separatist campaign raised poll numbers from less than a third to a near-victory in 1995, with those wanting to stay in Canada prevailing with only 50.58%.  Right now, Britons are baby-mad, and the baby they’re mad over is, inconveniently for Salmond, English.  (Well, a mix of German and Greek, actually, but never mind all that.)

In Wales, separatists face a similar problem.  The leading Welsh independentist party, Plaid Cymru, formed a coalition government there in 2007 but was turfed out by Labour in the 2011 elections.  Its attempts at a comeback have been hobbled by the accession to the party leadership the following year by Leanne Wood, an ardent pacifist, socialist, and republican who was once ejected from the Welsh Assembly chamber when she referred to Queen Elizabeth II as “Mrs. Windsor.”  And her equally republican party president, Jillian Evans, has raised eyebrows by appearing at events alongside violent radicals like Byddin Rhyddid Cymru, the Free Wales Army.

Jillian Evans speaking last September while the Free Wales Army wave their flags nearby.
Meanwhile, back north of Hadrian’s Wall, it should be noted that while the Windsors’ doings can affect politicking in Edinburgh, Scottish politics can influence royal matters as well.  In the weeks and months leading up to Prince George’s birth, and in the days of waiting afterward when his name had not yet been announced, odds-makers in London’s betting shops were—correctly, as it turned out—giving best odds to George, the name of the current monarch’s father (George VI) and grandfather (George V).  The next most likely names, according to the bookies, were James and Arthur.  Though it is one of the current Prince of Wales’s middle names, Arthur is a tricky one, since deciding whether a new monarch would be Arthur I or Arthur II would mean taking a position on whether the first King Arthur was mythical.  But James was even dicier.  Recall that James II of England, who was also James VII of Scotland, was deposed by his daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange in the anti-Catholic “Glorious Revolution” of 1688.  This ushered in a long period of “Jacobite” rebellion in the Scottish Highlands to try to get James and his House of Stuart restored to the throne—if not of England, at least of Scotland.  This unrest paved the way for the merger of the two kingdoms as the (United) Kingdom of Great Britain under James II’s daughter Queen Anne, who was raised Protestant, unlike her father, and whom Scots remember as the last reigning Stuart.  Childless, Anne was succeeded upon her death by a newly installed House of Hanover in 1714 with the accession, through parliamentary fiat and palace intrigue, of—wait for it—George I.  This is surely what Dennis Canavan had in mind when he swore bitterly last week that no “King George” would ever again rule Scotland.  And the Windsors are smart enough, as a referendum on Scottish independence looms, to dwell more on the glories of the first George than the bitter fall of the last James.

Who ever said the past was past?

James II ... or was it James VII?  Well, James the Last, that’s for sure.
[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it in spring 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

[This article modified on Aug. 5, 2013, to correct misstatements regarding Canadian viceroys and the role of Queen Anne.  Thanks to Brian Cowan for alerting me to these points.  Any remaining errors are my own.]

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