Our constitution, July 2012: Head of State

“Defining role and duties of Head of State as a ceremonial figurehead”

There are really only three questions to be asked about a Scottish Head of State, but they have very complicated answers.

The SNP have claimed they wish the Queen to remain as Head of State if the independence referendum goes Yes in autumn 2014. Certainly this is not a dealbreaker for me: I don’t know how I’ll vote, but whether or not Scotland becomes a republic is not a factor in that decision. Harking back to 1603, the SNP say they wish to dissolve the Union of Parliaments but not the Union of Crowns: a circumstance that applied to James VI and I, Charles I, Charles II, James II & VII, the joint and multi-numbered monarchs William III & II and Mary II, and Anne.

That the current monarch is both Elizabeth I of Scotland and Elizabeth II of England matters enough to some people that the Post Office carefully do not use the EIIR logo in Scotland because if they do, it gets vandalised. It’s not a non-issue.


The three options are:

(1) Do we want to keep the Union of Crowns?

Elizabeth II, and later Charles III, and William V, would find no change at all – the same state lodgings at Holyrood, the holiday home at Balmoral: they would reign over Scotland as they always did, and the Trust which owns Balmoral would continue to function to allow the royal family to spend their holidays there undisturbed by pesky taxation or animal welfare inspectors. Andy Wightman notes:

Queen Victoria took a lease of Balmoral Estate in 1848 from the Trustees of the Duke of Fife. The estate was then purchased in 1852, not by Queen Victoria, but by Prince Albert since the 1760 Civil List Act meant that any property bought by the Monarch would become part of the Crown Estate (the revenues of which are surrendered to Parliament in return for the Civil List). It was thus necessary to pass the Balmoral Estates Act in 1852 to confirm the legality of the purchase and to enable Victoria to inherit Balmoral following Albert’s death. The Crown Private Estates Act was then passed in 1862 to permit the further purchase of land in Scotland.

Balmoral Estate is, furthermore, not owned by the Queen. It is owned by Trustees Nominated and Appointed by Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second. The Queen is the beneficiary of this Trust. In 1997, the Trustees were Rt. Hon. David George Coke Patrick Ogilvy, Earl of Airlie (Cortachy Castle, Cortachy, Kirriemuir, Angus), Sir Iain Tennant KT LLD (Lochnabo, Llanbryde, Moray), and Michael Charles Gerard Peat CVV, Keeper of the Privy Purse (St James Palace, London)

The reason for this arrangement is to be found in Section 4 of the Crown Private Estates Act 1862 which stipulates that the Queen’s private estates in Scotland shall be held by Trustees. Balmoral Estate has thus been exempt from inheritance taxes and death duties ever since as Trusts don’t die. The Crown Private Estates Act is a reserved matter for the UK Parliament so there’s not much the Scottish Parliament can do about any of this.

(2) Do we want Scotland to become independent, but retain a constitutional monarchy?

Scotland would retain a constitutional monarch as head of state, like Canada, or any other Commonwealth realm. A Scottish viceregal representative would be appointed Governor General of Scotland, who would continue the functions of providing Royal Assent to Acts of Parliament and whatever other constitutional functions are decided on.

(3) Do we want Scotland to become an independent republic?

Instead of a hereditary monarch as head of state, the Constitution defines a means for electing someone to become the Head of State and hold constitutionally-defined functions. We’d want to decide if the chief of state in Scotland was to be divorced from party politics, when and how often and how much real power this chieftain would have: whether to call them chief or president or some other title. The Crown estates in Scotland would become the property of the state: the Scottish Parliament could repeal the Crown Private Estates Act and consider Balmoral and other broader issues of land ownership in Scotland.

(Land ownership in Scotland is a question for constitutional discussion in itself.)

This is not an abstract question. There are some very real issues to be considered, that should be considered. Whichever answer we decide on, it shouldn’t just be “let’s not change things from the way they were in 1603″.

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1 Comment

Filed under Elections, Scottish Constitution, Scottish Culture, Scottish Politics

One response to “Our constitution, July 2012: Head of State

  1. I agree that the Constitutional Convention should look at countries outside the Commonwealth with constitutional monarchies.

    It’s a good point that there’s a difference between the status/role of the monarchy in Jamaica and in Canada.

    But a key problem, as I see it, is that while we can declare ourselves a Republic without the consent of the royal family, we cannot force the Windsors to become constitutional monarchs in a model they do not accept – and I doubt very much if either Elizabeth or Charles would accept a change in the model of monarchy they are accustomed to believe in.

    As Andy Wightman notes, there is a real problem with land ownership in Scotland, and the Trust that owns Balmoral and other properties for the Windsor family to enjoy in perpetuity without taxes or inspectors, is part of that problem, and probably not resolvable without a real break.

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