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24 July 2012

Thanks, your majesty,
but it's time we
Scots moved on

Fraser Matheson

Drawing by Bob Smith

Scottish independence is an end in itself, but it is more than simply that. I have long maintained that independence is a means to many ends. A newly independent Scotland would be presented with a spectacularly rare and precious opportunity for societal and constitutional reform on a grand scale.

Recent events have highlighted one particular institution ripe for reform – the monarchy. It is the stated position of the first minister, if not his whole party, that an independent Scotland would retain the queen as head of state and queen of Scots. I suggest that for Mr Salmond to have already made such an important decision about an independent Scotland is rather unfortunate. To many Scots, the notion of a newly independent Scotland emerging into the 21st century with an essentially medieval institution at its constitutional helm is absurd. Quite apart from that, it seems presumptuous to make this kind of decision without consulting the Scottish people first.

One suspects that Mr Salmond's stance may have been settled upon for purely pragmatic reasons. Perhaps he believes that independence twinned with a republican rebranding will simply be too radical for many voters. Perhaps it is thought that the retention of an essentially symbolic monarchy is a price worth paying if it allows the greater aim of functioning political independence to be achieved. This line of reasoning – if indeed it is the first minister's reasoning – relies on the conceptualisation of the monarchy as a benign and functionally irrelevant institution. It can be retained simply because it does not, in practical terms, matter terribly much.

The debate between the monarchists and the republicans is an old one. There is little to be gained by repeating the same old arguments. However, I do take exception to this benign conceptualisation of the monarchy. To my mind it is strange to think that a modern, liberal democracy can so blithely accept that certain of its number are to be institutionally born into positions of prestige, privilege and power.

Some would dispute that there is any real power behind the throne, but that is simply not correct. The democratically elected legislature cannot make law without the consent of the Crown – consent which the monarch is as a matter of law entitled to withhold. That this is extraordinarily unlikely to happen does not make it acceptable. As a matter of law, the queen may cheerily gun down her subjects free from all fear of prosecution. Of course, that will not happen. But does that make the current state of affairs any more acceptable? Ours is a nation governed by the rule of law. The content of the law therefore matters. What the law allows and does not allow matters. It really does matter that certain individuals are permitted, as a matter of law, such extraordinary privileges and such extraordinary status.

I suggest that a newly independent Scotland should use the extraordinary opportunity for change presented to it to rid itself of medieval entrenched privilege. I do not suggest that we should be ungrateful for the good work which our present monarch has undoubtedly done. But we need not reward her labours with crawling, degrading displays of fealty and submission. Let us simply thank her like adults, and move on.

Scottish independence must not be thought of as a finishing line. It should be considered a gateway to improvement. It is a valuable goal because it will enable us to create a better Scotland. It will enable us to change what needs changed. The abolition of an ancient entrenched privilege would send an important signal about the new, more equal Scotland that we should be working towards.

Fraser Matheson was born in Dingwall and is currently a
final year law student in Aberdeen. He intends to practise
law in Scotland