The death of Elizabeth II, “a boost” in Scotland’s desire for independence?

The death of Elizabeth II, "a boost" in Scotland's desire for independence?

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During the 70 years of her reign, Elizabeth II was considered the guarantor of the unity of the United Kingdom. His death opened a period of uncertainty, especially in Scotland, where part of the population demanded independence. While the monarch was popular there, the new king might find it more difficult to federate there.

The culmination of a long history between Elizabeth II and Scotland. Sunday September 11, the coffin of the queen, who died Thursday in her residence in Balmoral, slowly traveled the Scottish countryside, passing through the cities of Aberdeen and Dundee to Edinburgh. Throughout these 300 km and six hours of journey, a large crowd came to greet one last time the one who reigned over the United Kingdom for 70 years. At the same time, cannon shots rang out in the capital to honor the new king, Charles III.

But in this country where part of the population aspires to independence, the death of the queen, often perceived as the cement of the United Kingdom, poses a threat to London: Scotland might want to take advantage of this new page of ‘History to become an independent and republican nation.

>> For the new King Charles III, the challenge of preserving the monarchy

Scotland, refuge of Elizabeth II

Scotland has always had a strong identity. Many Scots have never really felt British and have never been particularly sympathetic to the monarchy. But they were very attached to Elizabeth II”, explains Moya Jones, specialist in British civilizations at Bordeaux-Montaigne University. “With the arrival of Charles III in power, all the cards are reshuffled.”

Proof is, in an opinion poll published in May 2022 by think tank British Future, on the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee, 37% of Scots believed that the end of Elizabethan rule could be a good time to break free from the monarchy and move to a republic, twelve points more than in the rest of the UK.

In reality, tensions between the crown and the Scots have been around for a long time. For example, on Christmas Day in 1950, a group of Scottish students briefly seized the “Stone of Destiny” – a relic preserved in Westminster Abbey in London – claiming it had been stolen from Scottish when England invaded the country in 1296. But so far, successive monarchs have always managed to ease tensions between London and Edinburgh.

Elizabeth II was able to meet this challenge by counting on her longevity but above all on her own attachment to Scotland, believes Moya Jones. “The Queen, whose mother was Scottish, has always deeply loved this country,” she recalls. “Since childhood, she spent the majority of her summer holidays at Balmoral. It was a haven for her, where she could live an almost normal life and pursue her passions: driving cars, riding on horseback…” The gigantic manor, located in the middle of the Scottish countryside, in the county of Aberdeen, appears moreover as the symbol of these links between the British crown and Scotland: “It had been bought in 1852 under the Queen Victoria. This country’s first great lover,” says Moya Jones. Since then, it has been an integral part of the habits of the royal family.

“I wouldn’t even be surprised if we learned that she deliberately wanted to live her last moments there,” insists the specialist. Since the beginning of the year 2022, Elizabeth II had gradually limited her movements due to her declining health and had settled almost permanently in Balmoral. This is also where the last official photograph of her was taken on Tuesday. when she received the new head of government Liz Truss.

“But with Charles, a page is turned. The new king is best known for his relations with Wales, which is not surprising since he was prince there for 50 years. We do not really know how he feels in Scotland,” continues Moya Jones. Especially since the region can be attached to bad memories for the new king: he was in Balmoral in August 1997, when he learned of the death of his ex-wife Diana Spencer. He had remained entrenched there for several days to escape the press. For the new king, one of the first challenges will therefore be to succeed in maintaining these links woven by his mother between the crown and the Scots.

The queen, guarantor of unity

But behind this question of the influence of the monarchy arises another concern: could the death of the queen stir up the desire for independence in part of the country? “Clearly this could be a boost,” said Moya Jones. “Her Majesty’s death is the end of a chapter and could very well be seen as the beginning of a new one”, abounds for its part The Sunday Times, in an editorial.

Known for her unfailing political neutrality, Elizabeth II only stepped out of her rank twice during her reign, and always to speak out in favor of maintaining the union between the countries of the UK. In 1977, during her silver jubilee, she said in her speech: “I cannot forget that I have been crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This jubilee is perhaps an opportunity to remind ourselves of the advantages that the Union has conferred on all its inhabitants”. The second was in 2014, during the Scottish independence referendum. In front of Balmoral, she had encouraged the onlookers present to “think twice about it.”

The authority of the soaring Queen, the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her independence party, the SNP, could thus accelerate the draft referendum of self-determination that they wish to hold at the end of 2023. “From a strictly political point of view, Charles III will not be able to do anything about it. The only one who can officially oppose it is Liz Truss, and she has already done so”, specifies Moya Jones.

“The desire for independence is not a rejection of the monarchy”

Despite this period of uncertainty which is opening up for the monarchy and for the United Kingdom, Moya Jones is struggling to imagine a scenario where Scotland would completely free itself from the crown. “The desire for independence is not a complete rejection of the monarchy. It is a rejection of Downing Street politics,” she said. “There would be a lot of hurdles before getting there, but one could very well imagine a Scottish republic with a monarch, like in Australia for example.”

“In this, the fact that the queen died in Scotland will have a strong symbolic significance,” she continues. “And in a sense it unites England and Scotland once again around her. Let’s see how that will be used in the long term.”

The unifying work of Charles III will begin on Monday. The new king will make the traditional tour of the four nations of the kingdom to be greeted by his subjects. And his journey will begin in Edinburgh.


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