If you would rule a people, you must sit amongst them. The royals seem to be taking this piece of Machiavellian advice to heart of late. Today, we’re graced with a visit from King Charles. Together with assorted flunkies and a plethora of men in tights, Charles will perform an elaborate dance round the Honours of Scotland, which will involve touching, but not actually wearing them. They have even gone so far as to replace one of them. The original Scottish Sword of State, a gift from Pope Julius in 1507, will be substituted by a new sword called the Elizabeth Sword. The excuse given for this is that the old one is too fragile to use in ceremonies any longer. This is pretty rich coming from a country that uses a 700- year- old chair vandalised by choir boys, for coronations. Whatever happened to conservation?
So why so coy? Why is it that Charles will touch, but not actually wear the Scottish Crown? Why has our Sword of State been replaced? What is the actual point of this visit?
The answer is simple. Symbolism matters and presence matters. Charles is here because he is part of a performance to convince Scots that he is their King and that there is a union of crowns between England and Scotland. In actual fact there is no such thing. There is an English Crown and a Scottish Crown. The same person has worn both crowns from James VI up until Queen Anne; but they have never been united. The two Crowns are as far apart in nature as it is possible to imagine and since Queen Anne, only one Crown has been adhered and sworn to; the English Crown. And Charles and the UK government are terrified that at some point, the Scots will realise this. Hence the masquerade.
So what is the difference? It’s this. The English Crown invests the power of the (English state) in one person. Everything belongs to the monarch; the land, the people (subjects) and even the government (His Majesty’s government). Not only that, but it also belongs to his heirs. Every member of government has to swear an oath to Charles and his heirs in order for them to be allowed to sit in Parliament.
In Scotland it’s different. The Crown is not the possession of one person or one family. The Sovereign is not one person. The Sovereign is, in fact, the people. The monarch is simply the temporary caretaker of the Crown and can be overruled by the people. The Scots made this clear in the Declaration of Arbroath, the Claim of Right in 1689 and finally in the Scottish Accession oath where the monarch swears, ‘the rights and rents, with all just privileges of the Crown of Scotland, I shall preserve and keep inviolate, neither shall I transfer nor alienate the same.’ Translated, that means that the law, the land and the functions of state belong to the people; they are not to be acquired by others or changed.
To put this into a modern context; if Charles got beyond touching, took the Scottish oath and put the Scottish crown on his head, he would have to declare null and void all the claims made under the English Crown on Scottish territory. This would include North Sea oil and gas resources, all the land claimed under the King’s and Lord Treasurer’s Remembrancer (this is property and land titles for which an owner cannot be found and there’s a lot of them) and it would also make null and void the current freeports and potential plundering of resources in those areas. Finally, he would have to declare the Treaty of Union null and void, because it depends on the Claim of Right and the promises made by the monarch in the Accession Oath. For neither the government nor the monarch, nor any power in Scotland can be placed above the people. This is what the Scottish Crown means and to whom it belongs; the people.
That is why Charles will never put that crown on his head. And that is why he will never be our King. When he leaves St Giles today, he might reflect on the statue of his namesake, Charles II, which stands close by in Parliament Square. It was erected in 1685 and it’s a reminder of a betrayal. Many Scots fought for Charles against Cromwell because he was a Stuart and Scotland was occupied by thousands of Cromwell’s troops the length and breadth of Scotland in retaliation after the battle of Dunbar. The dismembered body of the Marquis of Montrose lies in a marble tomb in St Giles in testimony to that. During that time, the Honours of Scotland and what they represented were hidden away. When Cromwell died and Charles was restored to the throne, he treated the Scots with the same disdain as Cromwell and maintained the system of forts that Cromwell had established. Four years after Charles death, the Scots had had enough, declared the Scottish throne vacant and re-iterated the sovereignty of the people through the Claim of Right in 1689. We could do it again. For we are the Crown, and we are sovereign.