Can the QUEEN keep our KINGDOM UNITED?

The Scottish independence referendum posed one of the greatest threats to the Union in three centuries. As politicians squabble over the fallout, the Queen can bring the nation together again, says Thomas Blaikie
It was in 1947, on a tour of South Africa, that the Queen Mother, then Queen, was approached ungraciously by an Afrikaner. ‘I’ll never forgive the English for what they did to my country,’ he barked.

‘But I feel just the same,’ Her Majesty replied. ‘I’m Scottish and I’ll never forgive the English for what they did to my country.’

Only minimally appropriate following the recent vote on Scottish independence, I know, but how cunningly our Royals get out of awkward situations, don’t you think? On the other hand, permanent graciousness and the odd diplomatic remark can’t be the only means by which our sovereign and her family maintain their position. Why, in the recent drama of the Scottish referendum, did so many look to the sovereign to save the United Kingdom?

The art of doing nothing, if that’s what it means to be a constitutional monarch, is not an easy one. In fact, the Queen played with great skill in the Scottish ‘crisis’ – as Unionists saw it – and it’s more than likely that, with her huge experience and wisdom, she was something of a mastermind behind the scenes.

Perhaps fortunately, the referendum was timed to coincide with her annual sojourn at Balmoral. Was this an accident? Then, as calls for her intervention grew, the Palace issued a categorical statement that she would not intervene. But then she did, in an unexpected manner, wisely by exploiting the modern tendency, which perhaps she would not personally welcome, that members of the public are now often more than willing to repeat her ‘private’ remarks to reporters. (Even 15 years ago, this would not have happened.)

The scene was Crathie Kirk on the Sunday before the vote. She does not normally speak to well-wishers who gather and the press are usually kept 200 yards away. But not on this occasion. It was a member of the public who gave her her cue (what would have happened if they hadn’t?) and she was able to utter her carefully chosen words to the eff ect that the Scottish people should ‘think very carefully’ about the future before voting. She made her comment in private but it soon fi lled newspapers around the world. It was a novel and innovative way to get her message across. And it all looked wonderfully casual.

For those, like me, who were hoping that the Union would remain intact, it was absolutely perfect. She had said she wouldn’t intervene but did just enough to make it clear how much she valued the United Kingdom; her kingdom. Like everyone else without a ballot paper, her comment suggested that she had no control over events, but it rang true. Unlike all the threats, claims and counterclaims made by politicians on both sides, it was spoken from the heart.

So, while both Westminster and Edinburgh bigwigs are looking much reduced post-referendum, the Queen has come out of it well. In fact, many are now looking to her to bring fresh unity to the rather bruised United Kingdom.

Indeed, her rather grander offi cial statement came immediately after the No vote and called for toler- ance and togetherness. But even this was more urgent and personal than the usual monarchial appeal. ‘My family and I will do all we can to help and support you in this important task ,’ it read.

She clearly understands that many are gravely disappointed by the result and that their views must be respected if the UK is to survive into the future. How right she is.


The Queen’s handling of the Scottish referendum shows how she has moved with the times, yet stayed apart from them. So she continues to be a meaningful fi gurehead.

Her personal qualities are vital. Her steadiness and dependability, never being rushed or panicked, were to the fore in Scotland, as they have been for many years.

Like Queen Victoria she is, in many ways, middle class; in other words not wild, fashionable, fl ashy and unreliable. As a nation, we are fascinated by glamour but we trust a headscarf and a pair of brogues more. We like to imagine the Queen, of an evening, at home watching Coronation Street with something – perhaps stew and dumplings – on a tray. That’s why we trust her. She is the Queen, but she is also, many dare believe, one of us.

At times, especially as the bizarre comet that was Diana fl ashed by, she has seemed dull. She was even accused of being stiff and uncaring. But, like others who have been an enduring success with the public, she has remained her own person. If she adapts, she does it sincerely as well as without fuss.

Her grandfather was the same. He, too, was fl exible. In the summer of 1912, George V abandoned plans to visit his Royal relations in Europe and instead went to Yorkshire where the coal miners were on the brink of revolt. True, the King and Queen stayed with the richest man in England at Wentworth Woodhouse, but while they were there, there was a terrible accident in one of the mines and many were killed. Altering their programme at once, they arrived at the pithead and the Queen was seen leaving with tears in her eyes.

It would be fanciful to suggest that George V saved Britain from communism or revolution (the British working class, for whatever reason, simply had no appetite for revolt; they just wanted to secure better wages and working conditions) but a high-living, haughty and idiotic sovereign might well have tilted things in the wrong direction in the early 20th century.

While not quite empathetic and certainly not touchy-feely, Queen Elizabeth has nevertheless a gift for connecting with the everyday lives of her subjects from her lofty height. At Exeter Town Hall, not long after the foot-and-mouth crisis, a member of the public told her: ‘This government doesn’t care about the countryside.’

‘I know,’ the Queen replied. ‘That’s what I’m always telling Mr Blair when I see him every week.’

She receives sack loads of correspondence from ordinary people who believe that she is the one who really understands. A visitor to Balmoral at the time of Lord Mountbatten’s death was astonished when, after dinner, great baskets of letters were brought in and pored over by the Queen. She was much more interested in Mrs Soand- So’s trouble with her drain cover than grander aff airs of state.

Behind the scenes, the Queen has real infl uence derived from the power of her personality and her sure judgement. Sonny Ramphal, on becoming secretary-general to the Commonwealth in 1975, was quickly persuaded that she was far from an anachronism, as he had originally thought.

While others praised her ability to dissociate the monarchy from Britain’s colonial past, he said, ‘The Queen transcended the barriers of race, colour and caste.’

Many Commonwealth leaders adored her and heckled her speeches in a joyful fashion. In 1991, she went to southern Africa against Foreign Offi ce advice and took the decision off her own bat to invite Nelson Mandela to the head of state’s banquet although he was not head of state. The reverse problem occurred in 1965, when Ian Smith, the rogue Rhodesian leader, failed to appear at the Queen’s reception for world leaders, gathered in London for Churchill’s funeral. Harold Wilson wanted him there for informal negotiations and had asked the Queen to invite him. ‘Leave it to me,’ the Queen said to her PM and dispatched her equerry to the Hyde Park Hotel where Mr Smith, although in the middle of lunch, gave in at once.

There have been times, of course, when the Queen has exercised the sheer ancient power of majesty, although it is always debatable how much this can be divorced from the character and skill of the incumbent.

In 1997 there was another crisis of national unity. Diana died and the Queen herself was somehow to blame for all the poor girl’s wrongs. Until, that is, she undertook to broadcast live to the nation: ‘Speaking to you as your Queen and as a grandmother…’ she thundered.

This, it later emerged, was the turning point. Now, as politicians squabble and bicker over the results of the referendum and the fate of the nation, the Queen may just be the person to keep the kingdom united.