Guy Stenhouse: Politicians should pay attention to the royal masterclass to save Union
THE royal family have given us not just one but two masterclasses over the past fortnight. The first is in the dignity of their behaviour. At a time of great sadness for them they have not put a foot wrong in terms of what they have said, what they have done and the manner in which they have done it. Charles, a man ahead of his time on so many issues, is now King. His pledge to serve the people of this country so obviously sincere; I have no doubt he will be an outstanding monarch.
The second masterclass is in nation-building or, perhaps in this case, rebuilding.
The royal family do not do things by accident or on a whim. They made a choice in the first days after the death of Queen Elizabeth to put Scotland front and centre of their thoughts and presence.
How easy it would have been for the Queen to have been taken immediately to London but that was not their choice, nor clearly hers.
A slow journey from Balmoral to Edinburgh passing through towns and villages allowing people to pay their respects. Her rest at Holyrood Palace, the journey to St Giles, the Archers guarding her coffin as it lay at rest with the Crown of Scotland placed upon it.
The message does not have to be spoken to be clear. Scotland is our home, we love this land, the people of Scotland matter.
In death so as in life. The royal family are often to be found here because they clearly like being here. Charles did not fly from London to be at his mother’s side at Balmoral, he flew from Dumfries House in Ayrshire, an outstanding project which he has carefully nurtured to the benefit of the people in that area.
When the Princess Royal hands the Calcutta Cup to the captain of a victorious Scottish rugby team at Murrayfield the smile is genuine, the pleasure is real.
The Queen herself did not spend her holidays in some far off land but here in Scotland, with us.
I could go on but you get the point. The Royal family have treated Scotland as an equal part of their realm, in no way subordinate to England. The recent sad days have only reinforced that bond.
All too often those who seek to break up the United Kingdom are allowed to have the field to themselves. They attack while those who believe in the Union only defend.
The truth is that the Union has served Scotland well, we benefit from its common purpose, its weight. Socially and culturally we have so much more in common with England than we do with mainland Europe though it is fashionable to pretend that is not so.
In economic terms and the way in which it would impact on our public services and opportunities, separating Scotland from the rest of the UK makes no sense at all. It is quite simply a daft idea – and yet it has gained traction.
At the last Scottish Parliamentary election, 50% of Scottish voters backed pro-independence parties in the regional list vote. Why?
In part the relentless distortions of the facts and playing the “we’re different, we’re special” card used by nationalists the world over takes in those who confuse change with progress.
Another part of the problem is that unlike the royal family, British politicians and establishment frequently don’t respect or even understand that England is not Britain. London is not “The” capital. Scotland is a nation not a county.
The modern Britain is four nations forming one state. Those nations need to feel like volunteers not conscripts, they need to feel that although they do not have equality of numbers they do have equality of standing.
Where power is exercised, who by and what big decisions need the consent of a majority of nations as well as of people needs to be addressed.
Institutions need to be re-thought, re-shaped and relocated to level up not just spending but power away from the south-east of England not to another single place but more evenly distributed. The United Kingdom should be governed from Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh as well as from London. British politicians need to be seen throughout the land as they do their work and take their leisure – Paisley would be a good place to start in view of the new Prime Minister’s connection with it. Decisions must be made and seen to be made in a way which makes people in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland feel at the centre and not always on the periphery.
The United Kingdom has an enormous amount to offer to all its people. The royal family have shown the way, British politicians of all parties need to follow where they have led and act boldly to create a new 21st century United Kingdom which we all want to be part of.