The Queen’s Dilemma

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Within the next 24 hours the voters of Scotland shall decide in an historic referendum whether to remain part of Great Britain, within which they’ve been a vassal member officially since 1707, but more realistically began the process of becoming England’s underling when their king, James Vl, inherited the English throne in 1603, or reverting to being their own independent nation. With opinion polls remaining too close to call for either side of the referendum, the one thing everyone can agree on is that should Scottish voters decide to take back their sovereignty, the consequences for all involved will be monumental. Undoubtedly one of the people in Scotland right now who appreciates this fact the most is Her Majesty the Queen. For she’s been dealt the singular misfortune of this referendum having been scheduled during her annual vacation at her Balmoral estate in the Scottish highlands. While Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland’s parliament and leader of the Scottish National Party, who’ve spear headed this referendum, as well as being the politician who’ll undoubtedly gain the most should Scotland become its own nation, has vowed that an independent Scotland will retain the British monarch as its head of state, there are many within the leadership cadre of his party, including the independence campaign chairman, Dennis Canavan, who are calling for a second referendum to take place sometime after independence is declared that would determine whether or not Scotland is to become a republic. Should this come to pass, and Scottish voters decide they’re better off without a monarchy, the financial consequences alone for Elizabeth ll could be dire!

It’s no big secret that many among the rank and file of the Scottish Nationalist Party, or SNP, harbor strong anti-monarchist sentiments. The left leaning magazine The New Statesman has even accused Alex Salmond of “counterfeit monarchism”. Several of the author’s Tory friends in London have gone one step further and accused the SNP leader of falsely supporting the continuation of a Scottish/British monarchy as a means of convincing the undecided voters, of which there are still many, and among whom many are monarchist, to vote for his side. Once independence becomes a fait accompli, he’ll gladly give in to the more outwardly radical elements in his party who want the monarchy abolished.

One of the many arguments against Scottish independence is the very thorny issue of the lost revenue derived from the Scottish portion of the British Crown Estate, currently valued at approximately £287 million, should Scotland become sovereign. While this property portfolio is nominally owned by the Queen, in reality it’s owned by Parliament, and a portion of its annual profits are allotted to Her Majesty in the form of the Sovereign Grant, formerly known as the Civil List. While Scottish MPs have frequently complained of not being apportioned their fair share of the estate’s revenue in the past, they’ll be entitled to none of it should they become independent. Their only means of deriving revenue from the Crown properties will be either to tax them or nationalize them. Either scenario could lead to a diplomatic crisis the likes of which England and Scotland haven’t subjected each other to since the 17th century, and will easily place the Queen, as the constitutional head of both nations, in the greatest diplomatic crisis of her reign.

Since the author’s on the subject of taxation in an independent Scotland, the Queen might very well find herself paying a not so small fortune to the future Scottish parliament in the form of annual property taxes on the several thousand acre Balmoral estate, which Elizabeth ll owns outright and isn’t part of the Crown Estate. Her Majesty’s one of Scotland’s largest private land owners, and under Elizabeth ll’s current agreement with her government she voluntarily makes an annual payment to the HM Revenue and Customs in lieu of property taxes. Though the actual amount she pays is shrouded in secrecy, it’s generally presumed to be an amount favorable to her, and less than the standard rate for which any of her private subjects, with hypothetically comparable real estate holdings, would be legally obligated to pay. Even if the Scottish parliament retains her as their sovereign, they will be under no obligation to honor the Queen’s current property tax agreement with her own government. It’s certainly no exaggeration to surmise that should the Scottish hold Her Majesty liable for annual, standard rate taxes on the ginormous Balmoral Estate, the impact on the Queen’s already strained finances would be devastating.

Aside from negatively impacting her purse, the loss of Scotland would take a personal toll on Her Majesty as well. Aside from being a descendant of the Stuart dynasty, the Queen’s mother, the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, was born there and her family’s held the title of the Earldom of Strathmore for centuries. While she considers Windsor Castle to be her home, she considers Balmoral her home away from home. According to Robin Milliard’s article, Queen of Scots, but for how long?, published last Sunday on the Agence France-Presse website, several UK newspapers are reporting that she’s “devastated” by the prospect of Scottish independence. This is one of the reasons why she ran the risk on Sunday of violating her constitutional role by publicly advising a small group of well wishers to think carefully before making their decision this Thursday while leaving Crathie Kirk, the small church on the Balmoral Estate she attends every Sunday this time of year. While this might seem like a small gesture to the outside observer, it’s important to remember that Her Majesty is constitutionally obligated to remain above politics. Any outward show of support for one political cause over another can have the potential of compromising her role. This is why Buckingham Palace has consistently refused to clarify the Queen’s position on the referendum, except to remind people of what her constitutional duties are. Nonetheless, it’s well known that Elizabeth ll has always considered it her God given duty to hold Great Britain and the Commonwealth together. Should the Scottish vote for independence tomorrow, Her Majesty will undoubtedly consider herself to have failed in that duty.

If one were to choose a sobriquet to describe the reign of Britain’s current sovereign, Elizabeth the Unfortunate might be apropos. For it’s been her fate since ascending the throne in 1952 to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire, the devolving of the United Kingdom from having once been the world’s greatest superpower to a nation that isn’t even the richest or most powerful country in Europe, the public and humiliating destruction of most of her children’s marriages, and now the possible dissolution of Great Britain itself. Perhaps the single scariest aspect of tomorrow’s vote for British monarchists, should it be in the affirmative, is the possibility that this referendum will give hope and inspiration to other previously moribund independence movements in Her Majesty’s realm. Northern Ireland and Wales, after all, have their own grievances with Westminster, and although it seems unlikely that they’ll become independent nations in the near future, there was a time in the not too distant past when one could’ve said the same thing about Scotland. If the Monarchy isn’t a strong enough symbol to hold the United Kingdom together, it’s inevitable that the chorus that already exists questioning the existence of the British Crown will grow in number. All in all, Her Majesty is the one person in Scotland who potentially stands the most to lose tomorrow should the Scottish vote for independence.