If you have not already read Part 1 then you can do so here.
Res Nullias Part 1 – The Empty Crown
In my previous article, I looked at Queen Elizabeth’s standing in Scotland and the anomaly of how she is styled in Scotland. It should be Duchess of Balmoral, but she claims the title of Elizabeth II here through English royal prerogative, not by the consent of the Scottish people, who are sovereign in Scotland. But why does this matter? Well, apart from that royal prerogative giving Elizabeth legal exemptions for her royal person and by extension her son Andrew, protecting him from unwelcome scrutiny from the American authorities, there are many other reasons why this matters. Let’s consider them.
Every week the First Lord of The Treasury – the official job title of Prime Minister – meets with the monarch once a week even during the lockdown. Every law passed by the House of Commons must be signed into statute by her hand. Laws aren’t laws until they are her laws. Bedroom tax? Signed into law by a woman with hundreds of spare bedrooms in several palaces. Austerity measures? Signed into law by the wealthiest woman in this nation.
There is also not a tradition of refusing to sign into law those things with which the monarchy disagrees. A very active interest is taken in what is going to be debated in the House of Commons – and in Holyrood – with each proposed piece of legislation studied closely to ensure that they do not displease the paramount figure in Europe’s only theocracy.
Three examples highlight why the United Kingdom is not – and never has been – a democracy.
First, Gough Whitlam. He was the Prime Minister of Australia in 1976 who had the audacity to seek to have the Governor-General replaced for his continual interference in parliamentary procedure in Australia’s democratic affairs, particularly, attempts to introduce laws to protect Australian workers from exploitation by their employees. It didn’t matter that Whitlam had a majority of 17, he was replaced on orders from Buckingham Palace, his position ‘no longer tenable’. So much for Australia being an independent nation.
Second, the Local Government Etc (Scotland) Act 1972. At this time Scotland had hundreds of small councils, all of them responsible for the services provided by current members of COSLA. It would seem like nothing to re-organise some of these bodies into larger, ‘unitary’ authorities if only to streamline the financing of their operations. Unless you’re the historic Kingdom of Fife and have absolutely no intention of seeing your ancient borders redrawn on the whim of a London-based civil servant.
Many Labour-controlled councils made the changes in advance of the legislation – Strathclyde being one notorious example – because after all, it was a Labour administration in London that was pushing this change, but we do things differently in Fife. Our council sued the Secretary of State for Scotland – among others – so that the legal advice on whether Elizabeth should sign this onto statute or not, became a little wobbly. It depends on which account you read (and by which councilor) but essentially, signing the Act into statute would have set the monarchy against one of the ‘three Estates’ whose approval is needed for the ascension of a new monarch in Scotland, so Elizabeth got busy on doing something other than signing. Check on the gov.uk website and you’ll find the current status of this legislation is ‘uncertain’: passed by Westminster, enacted by some local authorities in Scotland, and of course, subsequently affected by new legislation – and revisions – but it’s a soft-pedal backward by the monarchy hiding in plain sight.
Consider how a government comes into being after a UK General Election. Between the announcement of the result and the House of Commons re-opening, there are a whole raft of details to sort out, not the least of which is what will be in the Queen’s Speech. Who writes that speech? Well, before anything can be debated in the House of Commons, it first has to be approved. No nod from the unelected, no inclusion in the Queen’s Speech, means no chance of becoming law.
Lastly, let us not forget that on 28 August 2019, the Parliament of the United Kingdom was ordered to be prorogued by the Duchess of Balmoral while en vacances in the Highlands, an act that was later deemed to be unlawful.
This is why anyone remotely familiar with the constitutional arrangements of other countries does not – and will not – ever count the United Kingdom as a democracy. In short, if elections of governments were all it took to be a democratic nation, then the People’s Republic of China would be the largest democracy on the planet and it’s fair to assume people in Hong Kong will not be raising flags, banners, or printing children’s stories any time soon without the approval of Beijing.
Nothing happens without Elizabeth’s consent. No law is discussed, no law is passed except by her hand. In this sceptered isle, Elizabeth is the law.
Except that is, in the kingdom of Scotland. Here the people are sovereign, not the monarch and they only rule by our consent. And that consent was not given. One word from us and all of those laws being imposed on us; the Internal Market Act, Brexit, and other horrors would come tumbling down because the authority of the monarch is the soul and centre of their legitimacy.
It is not without reason that the ‘British anthem’ is actually a call to perpetuate monarchy: other countries have kings and queens but there is in those lands a recognition that a nation is the sum of its people and their aspirations. Respect for Elizabeth is based on her longevity, but a truly great monarch would recognise the need to change. Just as no-one can change who their parents are, so no-one can affect where they’re born or the laws they will be subject to unless they’re uniquely placed to demand that as a people, their sovereignty is respected by those who believe they have a God-given right to abuse their inherited rank and station. The Scottish people are lucky – they neither need nor should long remain tolerant of the abuse by the sort of folk who clearly believe it acceptable to incant the closing of parliament over the lighting of a candle.
The final part of this series can be found here.