Words By Brian Quail image by Tom Leonard
I haven’t got my special invitation, so I’m afraid I won’t be going to the Abbey for the Kate and William bash. I’ll just have to be content with the street parties.
You know the sort of thing – the trestle tables down the centre of the street, loaded with Gregg’s sausage rolls, ham sandwiches, crisps, peanuts, Jaffa cakes, Tunnock’s carmel wafers, mars bars, and bottles of Irn Bru, with little Union Jacks fluttering in the breeze. The loyal subjects merrily celebrating the royal nuptials, as they throng excitedly in the street. No? No, I think not. Not in Scotland, at any rate. Not one street party in Glasgow – but I don’t know about Edinburgh.
It’s all very different in Ingerland, where the peasants seem to be happy to play their allocated role, dutifully cheering anything to do with Betty Windsor’’s troubled brood. Weddings especially. But funerals too. For a long time I lived in especial dread of the passing away of the actual Queen Mum. Had wild thoughts of dashing off abroad to miss the dreaded event, or chucking the telly out the window, or at least turning it off for the duration. When it came, of course, it was a case of just grin and bear it, and think of England – sort of.
Speaking of the Queen Mother reminds me of the classic Sun headline of some years ago. They were unveiling a statue to “Bomber Harris”, the man responsible for the blanket bombing of German cities in W.W.II, in London. The Queen Mother was in attendance. At the scene, a number of German women pacifists held a silent vigil in protest. Behind them a group of English anarchists set up a barrage of boos. These two events were collated and immortalised in the classic Sun headline: “Hun Scum Boo Queen Mum”. That’s your soaraway Sun for you. And now it supports Alex Salmond. You just can’t make it up, can you?
My connections with the Royals are somewhat distant, to put it mildly. However, I still do have a letter I received personally from Princess Di. Let me explain. Princess Di had made a statement, critical of cluster bombs, and – rightly – calling for them to be banned internationally. This was not long after she had ceremoniously launched a nuclear submarine at Barrow on Furness. So I wrote to her, expressing my approval of her opposition to cluster bombs, but pointing out that Atom Bombs are a lot bigger and more deadly than cluster bombs, and asking her if she would like to support their abolition also, by joining CND. I got a polite letter back from her secretary along the lines of “thanks but no thank you”. The rest, as they say, is history.
Meanwhile, the media are busy working themselves up into a right tizzy over the wedding – what else would you expect from the EBC? And don’t the English just love it! There’s a real difference in public attitudes north of the Border; less and less do the punters care about the Royals in Scotland. It is not that the desire for republicanism is growing here – would that that were the case ! – it is just a growing sense of indifference, and disconnection with the Windsors.
Unfortunately however there is another current here, which does feed at the Royalist trough, and that is Loyalism. This a black (or should I say orange?) undercurrent which runs deeply in Scottish culture, and we ignore it at our peril. Apart from the sheer humiliation of “Scotland’s shame’” as the composer James Macmillan famously described it, there is the overt political significance of Orangism.
It is not so long ago that the Grand Master of the Orange Order in Scotland threatened to instruct his members to take up arms in the event of Scotland leaving the Union. This may have been melodramatic posturing, but it is indicative of the opposition we face in working for republicanism here in Scotland. The Orange Orders claim a membership of 50.000. Even if this is wildly exaggerated, it is still many times the membership of SCND, or any other peace group.
Every year some 40,000 people march under the banners of religious bigotry, beating the drums of hatred in Scotland. As long as this parade of intolerance and bile is tolerated, we have a big problem in Scotland. The plain truth is that Orangism represents a major barrier to successfully building up a republican movement in Scotland. So long as this is so, we must work for independence first, and put the question of republicanism on the back burner, for the time being.
In addition we have the Caledonian cringe factor. Scotland suffers from the curse of the Black Abbot, as in “Ah but ye cannae dae that, Ah but, they won’t like that, Ah but…, Ah but…., and so on.
So, while it is tempting to sigh and turn away, ignoring these royal events, we should not underestimate their influence. It is commonplace to point out that the Royal family are the peak of a pyramid of hereditary privilege, and that the whole house of cards of unelected power and prestige ultimately depends of their existence.
More insidious and subtle is the effect of royalty on public perceptions and attitudes. Royalsim leads to a spirit of unquestioning subservience, the assumption that “they” know best, whether it be wars in Afghanistan, or deploying Trident nuclear submarines. It breeds a servile response to, and an acceptance of, the superior understanding and status of the ruling classes.
Which is why, although I wish them personally no ill and hope they have long and happy lives, I do not wish the Royals to rule over us. I believe that their role in society is retrograde, reactionary, and essentially undemocratic.
So I won’t be throwing any confetti or cheering on the happy couple. Frankly, I think they, and the whole three-ring Royal Circus, should quietly retire.