Queen's ties to Scotland add new wrinkle to push for independence

Members of the public gather on the Royal Mile to watch the hearse carrying Queen Elizabeth II's coffin in Edinburgh, Scotland, on Sept 11, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

EDINBURGH, Scotland - Its streets lined with tens of thousands of admirers, Scotland bade a somber farewell to Queen Elizabeth II on Sunday as her coffin made its slow, final, journey through a country that she helped bind into the British state through her decades of rule, her love of the wild Scottish countryside and her own popularity.

The six-hour funeral procession was the beginning of three days of mourning centered on Scotland, continuing Monday with a journey along Edinburgh's "Royal Mile," which starts at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the royal residence, before moving on to St Giles' Cathedral, where members of the public will have a chance to pay their respects.

The queen's death in Scotland, at her home in Balmoral, underscored her close ties to the country, which for two days will be the center of national mourning. But the journey of her body is also a trip laden with political overtones, as new questions arise about the future of Scotland's independence movement in the wake of the queen's death.

The accession of King Charles III comes at a time of renewed mobilisation for Scottish independence, complicating the approach for those who want to break away. Political analysts said that respect for the queen and her devotion to Scotland could temporarily dampen the heated debate over independence and perhaps strengthen a union that has been under acute strain for more than a decade.

"The fact that it has happened here reinforces the connection to Balmoral, and the preparations for the funeral have a strong Scottish element," said James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, referring to the country estate that the queen loved and the place where she died.

"I am pretty sure it's not helping the SNP," Mitchell added, referring to the pro-independence Scottish National Party, led by Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister.

Still, Mitchell said, in the long term it was unclear how the queen's death would affect the independence movement. "It depends on where we will be in a few month's time or in a couple of year's time," he said.

That air of constitutional uncertainty was evident on Sunday, reflected in the front page headline of The Herald newspaper. Above a picture of Charles, it read: "Union's Saviour or Last King of Scotland?"

Sturgeon wants to keep the monarchy even if Scotland wins independence, and King Charles also has close ties to her country; after his marriage to Diana, Princess of Wales, his honeymoon was at Balmoral.

But he faces a significant challenge in building the same rapport with the Scottish people that his mother established over decades, and he ascends the throne at a moment of tension over constitutional questions.

In 2014, Scotland voted against independence, but Britain's vote two years later in favour of Brexit changed the equation in the eyes of many Scots, a majority of whom wanted to stay in the European Union. Outnumbered by voters in England and Wales, they found their wish overruled, lending momentum to the independence movement.

Sturgeon has called for another referendum on independence next year. The British government has rejected that demand, and the issue is being contested in court, though most analysts say that another vote is unlikely to happen soon.

The queen's death in Scotland underscored her close ties to the country, which for two days will be the center of national mourning. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Politically, Scotland and England have been growing gradually apart, their voters favouring politicians from differing parties. But many Scots see the monarchy as Scottish as much as English. And they take their shared monarchal history seriously.

In 1603, after the death of Elizabeth I, James VI of Scotland succeeded her, becoming James I of England in what was essentially a Scottish takeover of the English crown. A formal union took place a century later in 1707.

When Queen Elizabeth II ascended the throne in 1952, there were complaints in Scotland about her being known as Queen Elizabeth II because Elizabeth I had reigned over England but not Scotland.

While she was scrupulously diplomatic, there was little doubt about Queen Elizabeth II's desire for the country to remain united, and, during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, she appealed to people to "think very carefully about the future" before voting.

Later, David Cameron, then prime minister, apologised for revealing that, when he called the queen to inform her of the result, she had "purred down the line". Nonetheless, the pro-independence forces have not only praised the monarchy, which they want to retain as part of a separate nation, but also claimed the queen as their own.

"The relationship between Scotland and the queen was one of shared admiration," said Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP lawmakers at Westminster, in a tribute Friday. "Indeed, while she was everyone's queen, for many in Scotland, she was Elizabeth Queen of Scots." "Her Majesty's roots in Scotland run deep," he added. "She was descended from the royal house of Stewart on both sides of her family, and, of course, her mother was from Glamis in Angus.''

Flowers and pictures of the late Queen Elizabeth II are placed outside of the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh on Sept 11, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

On Sunday outside the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Alana McCormick, 35, a nursery practitioner from Midlothian, reflected on the queen's love of Scotland in general and of Balmoral in particular. It was from there that her coffin was carried Sunday morning to a waiting hearse by the estate's gamekeepers at the start of the procession.

"I personally feel she chose to die here; she knew her time was coming," she said. "She had a love for Scotland, and people here have come out in droves.

"I am not voting for independence of Scotland," she added, "and I am hoping that this will put the call for a referendum on the back burner."

James Rivals, 34, who is from Edinburgh and was carrying a bouquet of lilies, said that while he favored an independent Scotland, he wanted to retain the monarchy and had come to pay his respects.

In the longer term, the effect on Scotland of the death of the queen might depend less on the emotions surrounding the funeral and more on the success King Charles achieves in building on the support his mother bequeathed.

"At the end of the day, the monarchy could be useful for the unionist side if there is a referendum," said Mitchell, "but how useful depends on how popular the monarch is at the time of any referendum.

"The queen was very popular," he added, "and it could be the case that Charles doesn't have the same popularity that she did." NYTIMES

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