The Queen’s passing shows far more unites us than divides
YOU know we’re living in tumultuous times when John Swinney hails Scotland’s ‘central position within the UK’.
But that is exactly what the Deputy First Minister said on Sunday — indeed he declared that our position was not just central, but ‘absolutely central’.
It doesn’t get more unequivocal than that, and yet to sections of the SNP support one imagines his observations weren’t received with universal acclamation.
It doesn’t quite chime with the usual narrative that we’re victims of unrelenting Westminster oppression.
Then again, perhaps it also shows that even hardened separatists have been profoundly moved by the Queen’s death.
Political hostilities have come to a temporary halt. The circular debate about independence was threatening to reach boiling-point, again, but — for now — things have cooled down by a few degrees.
There can be little doubt that constitutional conflict won’t be gone for long — it never is in Scotland.
But the sight of Nicola Sturgeon signing the Proclamation of Charles as our next monarch in London, and her presence throughout ancient ceremonial rites, is a symbol of that ceasefire.
True, it might well be a bitter pill to swallow for some independence supporters — and we shouldn’t forget that the SNP is in government with the anti-monarchist Greens.
But the past few days have revealed, in spectacular fashion, the inner workings of our constitution.
The meeting of the Privy Council at St James’s Palace in Saturday was televised, with Miss Sturgeon signing the Proclamation papers as former Prime Ministers looked on.
What Mr Swinney recognised as the centrality of Scotland’s place in that centuries-old partnership of nations has been showcased to the world.
And it’s hard to imagine a more powerful demonstration of the continuing relevance, endurance and worth of the Union than the outpouring of emotion following the Queen’s death last Thursday.
It was evident when tractors assembled at the perimeter of fields bordering the route taken by the Queen’s hearse through Aberdeenshire on Sunday — echoing the dipping of cranes as Winston Churchill’s coffin passed along the Thames.
And it was on show when thousands lined bridges and parked on hard shoulders, and later stood on the streets of Edinburgh, to catch a glimpse of the cortège.
The new King’s address to MSPs, after leading that extraordinary, solemn procession along the Royal Mile behind his mother’s coffin, was another sign of his determination to stress the importance of Scotland to his reign.
All of these events have underlined the strength and resilience of bonds that have come under intense scrutiny — and under sustained assault — for so many years.
It now seems like another lifetime, but it was only a week ago that Liz Truss met the Queen, for the first time as Prime Minister, and it was significant that the moment she formally became PM happened in Scotland, at Balmoral.
Meanwhile, republicanism has been reduced to — or exposed as — a marginal force, confined to a few noisy dissenters drowned out by shouts of ‘God Save The King’.
The immediacy of the transition between the reign of Elizabeth and that of King Charles was jarring — there’s no hiatus, and overnight the machinery of the state, and public life, made rapid adjustments.
But there is comfort, in a time of national mourning, to be derived from that continuity — in many other countries, where heads of state are elected, there’s much more fuss, uncertainty — and indeed politicking.
As Prince Philip once said, Royalty can only exist by the consent of the public — it can’t, or shouldn’t, be foisted on us — a fact he was acutely aware of, as a member of the exiled Royal Family in Greece, where the monarchy was abolished (twice).
That consent has been, surely, clear and incontestable in recent days, in the mourning for the Queen and in the warm welcome for King Charles as her successor.
Speaking of politicking — and it will resume soon enough — these are anxious times for separatists, anxiously awaiting the outcome of a Supreme Court hearing next month on the legitimacy of a second attempt at an independence vote.
Former SNP adviser Alex bell wrote at the weekend that ‘Queen Elizabeth was a unifying figure, but her death will not help the SNP’.
He said: ‘Britain is a very different place today, but the consequences of that are not yet obvious.’
And it’s true that the repercussions for the independence case and the likelihood of a second referendum — and even before the Queen died they were somewhere between limited and negligible — are unknown.
But there’s no escaping the fact those firebrand ideologues who have devoted so much of their lives to stirring up division, including Miss Sturgeon and Mr Swinney, have become, effectively, Establishment figures.
It doesn’t get more Establishment than performing those important tasks which fell to the First Minister yesterday, and over the weekend — tasks which she carried out with diligence and decorum.
The SNP Government, far from seizing the moment to advance its agenda, had the grace to park it for a while — indeed Mr Swinney may have thrown it into reverse gear by appearing to morph into a Unionist, however briefly.
What some of Miss Sturgeon’s more zealous supporters might make of all this isn’t hard to guess, and doubtless they will have been just as discomfited by his deputy’s remarks about Scotland being at the heart of the United Kingdom.
After all, it’s hard to rally behind secessionist leaders when their rabble-rousing days are, patently, far behind them.
Mr Swinney reassures us that the King would remain head of state in an independent Scotland, insisting that ‘it’s what we argued in the referendum in 2014, and it’s what we will continue to argue’.
But within the SNP and the wider independence movement there’s plenty of disagreement on the subject — Alex Salmond’s Alba Party is anti-monarchist.
At the very least, the future of the monarchy in Scotland, if the Union were to be broken apart, would be put in doubt, and left vulnerable to its many enemies in nationalist ranks.
For now, the Queen’s death — and its seismic emotional impact not only in the UK but around the world — have driven home that, frankly, there are more important things than politics.
That’s a message that most of its participants would do well to heed when the increasingly toxic debate about independence starts again in coming weeks.
But the monarch’s passing has also provided another potent and undeniable reminder that far more unites us than divides us.
And for that reason, part of the Queen’s legacy might well be a new lease of life for the Union 315 years after its creation.
*This column appeared in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 13, 2022.
*Follow me on Twitter: @GrahamGGrant