Queen stays silent on Scotland debate

The Queen has chosen to avoid being dragged into one of the bitterest political debates in a generation

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With the country over which she rules facing the prospect of a divorce, the Queen has chosen to avoid being dragged into one of the bitterest political debates in a generation.

A spokesman for the UK’s head of state spent much of the early part of this week denying reports that the prospect of a Yes vote next week in the Scottish referendum on independence had caused her “a great deal of concern”.

“The Queen maintains a strict neutrality on all political matters, including independence for Scotland,” Buckingham Palace said.

David Cameron met the Queen over the weekend, but Number 10 insists it is not putting her under any pressure to intervene. A spokesman said on Tuesday: “It is the job of politicians to make the political case in the usual way.”

Robert Hazell, director of the constitutional unit at University College London, said: “The Queen always stays above party politics, and this is intensely party political. It is especially awkward for the monarch when two of her administrations [the UK and Scottish governments] are at odds with each other.”

There is, however, a precedent for her commenting on a constitutional issue. In 1977, she decided to intervene when the prospect of Scottish and Welsh assemblies was being discussed.

During her Jubilee address, the Queen said: “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 this United Kingdom.”

Her reluctance to get involved in the independence debate may also have something to do with the bruising experience of her mooted involvement in the Quebec independence referendum of 1995.

With just days to go until the vote, which the No side won by just a percentage point, the Queen fell victim to a hoax by a Canadian radio DJ who called the palace pretending to be Jean Chrétien, the Canadian prime minister. Having been put through to the monarch, the DJ extracted a promise that she would help the No campaign by making a speech on national television.

The request was not real and the speech was never made, but the palace was so irritated by the incident that it remains wary of entering political debates.

However, the bonds between Scotland and England are particularly meaningful for the current monarch. Fittingly, when this weekend’s poll giving the Yes side a lead for the first time was released, the Queen was at Balmoral Castle, the privately owned Highlands retreat that is said to be her favourite royal home.

Despite the Queen’s apparent desire to remain strictly neutral, pressure is building for her to intervene. Labour MP Simon Danczuk told the Telegraph on Tuesday: “[Her involvement] would mean something to the people of England and Scotland. It would be welcomed.”

Even if Scotland votes for independence, the Queen would remain head of state north of the border. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s first minister, has made retention of the monarchy a key pledge in his independence platform. “Her majesty the Queen . . . would be proud to be queen of Scots,” he said on Tuesday.

But ministers are pessimistic about the likelihood of the Queen intervening. One told the Financial Times: “The Queen has visited the Highland Games and announced a new royal baby. I’m not sure there’s much more she’s likely to do to save the union.”

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