Tuesday 9 September 2014

Scottish Referendum and The Queen's Speech -- Precedents

The front page of today's Daily Telegraph contains an article bearing the dramatic title "Scottish Independence: The Queen is Urged to Intervene". Following the release of a second opinion poll (this one by TNS) confirming that the shambolic Better Together campaign is indeed running neck and neck with the Yes Campaign, several panicked MPs are now urging the Prime Minister to request that The Queen intervene at this time of national crisis.

In support of their request, the MPs make reference to an earlier precedent: The Queen's Silver Jubilee speech of 1977 in which, in the context of the possibility of devolution and the damage it might cause to the Union, Her Majesty made what was perhaps her most political statement:

 "I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and of Northern Ireland. Perhaps this Jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of the United Kingdom.

This brief statement was not a compromising political intervention but it enabled The Queen to speak in support of the Union, an issue that falls squarely within the fundamental interest of the Crown, and which it is the Crown's duty to protect. Importantly (and in stark contrast to any speech that might be delivered in the next few days) this carefully crafted speech, long in the planning, was not delivered in the run up to a highly charged political vote, but was presented at an appropriate time and place.

Unfortunately, The Queen's other comments relating to political affairs are not quoted in The Telegraph article, which is a shame. No British commentator or expert appears to be aware that The Queen, in her role as Queen of Canada, twice involved herself in an equally sensitive issue of national unity. In 1987 The Queen delivered two speeches in which she spoke about the Meech Lake Accord, a controversial accord designed to strengthen Quebec's position within the Canadian family. When the Accord was rejected in 1990, the future of a united Canada appeared uncertain and the possibility of Quebec separation seemed very real, as real as Scottish separation seems today.

The Queen arriving at Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Canada, 1990
In the middle of this intense and very nasty political drama, The Queen made an official visit to her Canadian realm to participate in the huge Canada Day celebration that is held annually outside Ottawa's Houses of Parliament, and which is the focus of national attention. On the advice of her Canadian ministers The Queen delivered a moving, and perfectly pitched, speech to the tens of thousands of people who were assembled in front of Parliament; it was also broadcast live on television to millions of homes.

Her Majesty's words in Ottawa in 1990 could well be repeated today in Edinburgh:

"I am not just a fair-weather friend and I am glad to be here at this sensitive time. I hope my presence may call to mind those many years of shared experience and raise new hopes for the future. The unity of the Canadian people was the paramount issue in 1867 as it is today. There is no force except the force of will to keep Canadians together."

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