Constitutional governance not being a sexy subject, it is understandable that it finds room only at the margins of political discussion if at all. This could explain recent online confusion among Nationalists over the SNP’s policy in relation to the monarchy. The 1997 SNP conference in Rothesay determined that policy was to hold a post-independence referendum on the monarchy. Salmond argued against but vowed to respect the wishes of the party. That policy was subsequently changed without a vote. Many SNP members are unaware of how, when and why that happened. Some even suggest that none of it matters. Irrespective of one’s views on the monarchy, of course it matters. It is undemocratic to change policy in such a manner. It is telling of those who would treat democracy with such contempt, of those who would be so readily treated and those who attempt its defence. To be fair, it is difficult to know the precise circumstances of the policy change.
What is known is that Alasdair Allan’s ‘Talking Independence‘ booklet (Mar 2002) states that SNP policy is to hold a referendum on the monarchy once independence is fully in effect. Also that Neil MacCormick’s Draft Constitution for an Independent Scotland (Sep 2002) states that policy is to hold a referendum on the monarchy in the first term of an independent parliament. The SNP’s 2003 Scottish election manifesto (now removed from their website) further reaffirms the intention to hold a referendum on the monarchy but is silent on timescale. However, the 2005 and all subsequent manifestos contain no reference to the monarchy and in July 2011 journalist Kenny Farquharson asked the SNP if its 1997 conference decision on the monarchy was still party policy to be told: “What we now propose is a referendum on our proposal for an independent Scotland…which will include the long-standing policy for the Queen and her successors to be head of state”. The First Minister has been clear on the matter since.
The above suggests that the policy change took place between the 2003 and 2005 manifestos. Of course, Salmond regained leadership of the party in Sep 2004 and he was strongly opposed to the commitment to a referendum on the monarchy. The reason being that it left the party vulnerable to Unionist accusations that the plan was to dump the monarchy post-independence, thereby costing the party votes unnecessarily.
It is said that the monarch is a mere figurehead, a symbolic tourist attraction bereft of political power. Well, the monarch dismissed the Australian Prime Minister and installed another during the 1975 constitutional crisis. The monarch also summoned the UK Prime Minister (as she is entitled to do) after the SNP’s 2011 election win to express her concern about the break-up of the UK. Lurking amongst those who would argue that the monarchy is a non-issue best dealt with post-independence is the belief that for every republican in Scotland there is also a corresponding royalist. However, in the 1997 televised debate ‘Monarchy: The Nation Decides’, Scotland was the only part of the UK to vote in favour (56% – higher now? ) of abolition in the phone poll.
There is a group of people destined to be disappointed when this finally plays out but it is unclear whether it will be by those who hope for a republic or those who accept the current SNP policy at face value. What is clear is that someone is getting mugged off.