With less than a month to go until the Scottish independence referendum the key issues being discussed are the NHS and currency. Furthermore, the ‘Yes’ campaign have seen further boosts in the polls ahead of next week’s second battle between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling.
But this Tuesday a debate held in Glasgow discussed an issue brushed over by the mainstream: the future of Scotland’s head of state. Republic Scotland, which is a devolved campaign of Republic who argue for the abolition of the monarchy, held an event called: ‘Yes or No, Should the Monarchy Go?”, which was broadcast live on ‘Referendum TV’. On the issue of independence Republic remain neutral.
Making the case for a Republic were Green party activist Zara Kitson and the SNP MSP John Mason. Arguing for the monarchy were Jamie Gardiner, a Scottish Conservative candidate in the recent European elections, and Robert Brown, a Lib Dem councillor.
The debate began Tuesday evening with Gary McLelland of Republic Scotland making an introductory address before the debate, before handing control over to the chairperson, David Torrance, writer and journalist from Edinburgh.
Each debater went on to make a five minute speech to clarify their position on the monarchy and independence.
The SNP MSP John Mason went first and describes himself as a ‘soft-republican’. He argued that there is an ‘inherent illogicality’ of having a monarchy within a democracy and that the institution symbolises the great wealth divide in Scotland and the UK.
He argued that whilst the monarchy is fine for now, as the Queen is popular, it is likely that an independent Scotland in the future or a united UK could remove the monarchy and he would support a referendum on the issue. To conclude he said that he is ‘more convinced’ that ‘we need to have a republic’.
Robert Brown of the Liberal Democrats spoke next, arguing that having a monarchy does not necessarily weaken democracy. He highlighted that in the 2012 list of most democratic countries, seven of the top ten were constitutional monarchies, including the likes of Scandinavian Denmark and Sweden.
He then argued that democratic politics is divisive, whereas the monarchy can unite, with the Australian referendum on removing the monarchy illustrating this.
Zara Kitson, the Green activist, argued that people should be ‘citizens not subject’ and highlighted speeches on austerity given by the Queen in a ‘jeweled hat’ as reasons to support a republic.
She addressed the audience, asking them to think about the issue from a different perspective, asking that if we did not have a monarchy, would the people of Scotland and the UK vote to adopt a monarchy? To answer her own question she said: ‘I don’t think we would.’
Last to speak was Jamie Gardiner, the Conservative panel member. He argued that divides in society such as ‘Yes versus No’ are beneficial as they allow ‘individualism to flourish’ but society needs something to bind it together, that being the monarchy.
He said that the unintended effect of removing the monarchy would be a ‘more beige, more fragmented’ society. The world would not end without the Queen, but it would be ‘a little less colourful’.
The debate then went on with the chair asking the panelists questions.
There were numerous highlights of the debate despite the technical glitches for those watching online:
In response to the pro-monarchist Jamie Gardiner’s comment that a world without the British monarchy would be ‘less colourful’, republican Zara Kitson said she had laughed to herself highlighting a potential weakness in the argument.
Additionally, Robert Brown of the Liberal Democrats argued that there was no demand for a referendum on the issue but in the past monarchs had been removed due to unpopularity without overhauling the system and this could happen again in the future, in response to comments about the popularity of the current monarch being more popular than the institution itself.
Also John Mason, SNP MSP revealed he voted 'no' in the 1979 referendum on the basis of a promise of getting more powers for Scotland.
Furthermore, Jamie Gardiner made the point that whilst the ‘Yes’ campaign is not a republican movement both people on the ‘republican’ side of the debate came from the ‘Yes’ side.
Regarding this, speaking to me via Twitter, Gary McLelland, of Republic Scotland, said that that it was hard to get speakers and would have preferred each side to be made up of one person voting 'Yes' and the other 'No'. But he said he would rather the arguments got aired, which they did.
It is important to therefore note that there do exist notable republicans and monarchists in both campaigns regarding Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom, and the SNP under Alex Salmond do not officially support a republic, whereas the Scottish Greens do.
Following audience questions, the panel were asked where they saw the monarchy in ten years.
Robert Brown said he hoped to see the monarchy still around but within the framework of a more pluralist and federal United Kingdom.
As for his debate partner on the monarchist side, James Gardiner said he hoped it still to be there and still unifying most people.
The Green Zara Kitson said that the world is moving at a very fast pace and hopefully that after the constitutional change in Scotland in terms of independence, or more powers in the UK if Scotland votes ‘no’, people will view the monarchy differently and that it might not exist in ten years.
As for John Mason he argued that when the present Queen passes the debate on the monarchy will resurface and could bring about change. He said he hoped that if the monarchy does still exist that it will live within the framework of a written constitution and removal of anti-catholic notions and that people will think about the concept rather than that ‘nice old lady’ at the head of the country.
This debate shows that there is some demand for a change in the way our head of state is chosen, and perhaps one day the people of Scotland or/and the United Kingdom will tackle the issue in a referendum, however, it is unlikely that such a debate will happen within the immediate future.