The Monarchy in the Public Mind and Political Body of the United Kingdom

Buckingham Palace 21-6-15. Pic copyright of Alistair McConnachie

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This article by Alistair McConnachie was posted on this site on 12 May 2016.

Photo taken by Alistair McConnachie 21-6-15.

The United Kingdom is by its very nature a Monarchical State. The clue is in the name! Its full description is a "Constitutional Monarchy and Parliamentary Democracy".

It is almost impossible to consider British history without acknowledging the centrality of its Monarchy, and it is almost impossible to imagine Britain without a Monarchy.

The entire history and structure of the UK is a result of the politics of Monarchy, going right back into the mists of time, and well before the Union of the Crowns when James VI of Scotland became James VI of Great Britain (we use this styling because that is what he would have wanted), to the Glorious Revolution, to the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England which itself was heavily influenced by the politics of monarchical secession (whether a Catholic or Protestant would inherit the throne) – see our article here.

Those people (thankfully few) who believe in the Union but who want to end the Monarchy aren't seeing the big picture of Britain. They don't seem to understand that a state which is, by its very nature, a Monarchical State, cannot be held together without its Monarchy.

Take away the Monarchy and what are they proposing to put in its place which would hold the Body of the UK together?

To urge the end of the Monarchy would be to deliberately, or inadvertently, campaign for the end of the United "Kingdom" itself.

Furthermore, so much of the "colour" and attractiveness of the national Image of Great Britain derives from the Monarchy. So much of what stirs a British patriotism in our hearts, and makes many of us want to defend the idea of a British Union, is based around the Monarchy.

We are not saying that it represents everything about our Union, but it is certainly a considerable part.

For example, watch the British Armed Forces and its regular pageantry, or the splendour of the ceremonies of the British Parliament, or the Opening Ceremonies of anything from a local school to the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, or the Queen opening the Scottish Parliament, or the "Kirking of the Scottish Parliament" – which Prince Charles attended on 11 May 2016; these all have a distinct, colourful and British flavour which is centred upon, and which is influenced by the British Monarchy.

Take those things away; take away the Horse Guards, the Guards Division, Trooping the Colour, the Opening Ceremonies, all the events which the Royals attend – then we will have removed many of the colourful things which our imagination finds attractive about the whole idea of "Britain".

We would have lost a massive element of those things which make Britain attractive to the eye. We would have lost much of the imagery which makes people cleave to the idea of a United Kingdom.

And what would we replace it with? Are we going to use elected officials at these events instead? When George Osborne attended the Olympic Games in London in 2012 he was booed!

Our point is that the Monarchy is all "part and parcel" of the imaginative Image, and the political Body of the United Kingdom. Without it, the very idea of a United Kingdom would suffer a grievous blow.

Thankfully, the Monarchy is not imperilled. However we do find it interesting that those Cybernats who are most bitter towards the United Kingdom are also those who are most vehemently opposed to the Monarchy!

The lesson for us is clear: The Monarchy is one of the essential glues which represent the United Kingdom in the collective Public Mind, and which hold our Body Politic together. Thinking we can have a United Kingdom without a Monarchy is mistaken.

Now let's examine how the sovereign People, and the sovereign Queen, relate together within the sovereign Community of the Realm.

There are three areas of government - the legislature, that is the law-making power, the executive, that is the law-enforcing power, and the judiciary, which determines the law.

For centuries the Monarch exercised supreme executive, legislative and judicial power in person.

The struggle between Crown and Parliament in the seventeenth century led in 1688-89 to the establishment of a limited Constitutional Monarchy.

With the establishment of the Party system by the end of the nineteenth century, the Monarch's direct role in politics became minimal.

Today, the two major roles of the Queen are as the Head of State and as a National Icon.

As Head of State the Queen does not owe her position to either patronage or a vote, and can more properly represent all the people in a way in which an elected President cannot.

As a National Icon, with a history stretching back centuries, the Queen is a distinct symbol of national identity. She represents Britain - the nation, its constituent parts, and the people - in a way in which a transitory politician can never do. In this role, she also provides a focused and tangible symbol of the people's sovereignty.

These are important roles, and in both of them she has political power - of a sort - but it is not the sort of power which by itself, can initiate laws.

Under our present system, the legislature is Parliament, namely, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The executive is the Queen, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet.

"The Crown" is the symbol, and name, of the supreme governing authority. The Queen is the person - the embodiment - of the Crown.

The governing functions of the Crown are exercised by Ministers responsible to Parliament, in the name of the Queen. Hence the term, "Her Majesty's Government".

Bills go through the House of Commons, and the House of Lords and when they have been passed by both Houses, the Queen gives her "Royal Assent" to them.

Addressing the Holyrood chamber on its first session in the new parliament on 12 May 2016, Nicola Sturgeon – before taking the Oath to the Crown – said: "The Scottish National Party pledges loyalty to the people of Scotland, in line with the Scottish constitutional tradition of the sovereignty of the people."

This was a little dig at the idea that the Scottish concept of "sovereignty" is different from that understood by the English, and in particular that held by the British Parliament.

She can get away with this nonsense because few constitutional scholars bother to challenge her.

What is she talking about? Well, in the past 50 years, an absurd, self-righteous, self-justifying theme has picked up traction in Scotland.

Apparently, "in Scotland", "the people are sovereign", but "in England" – and as far as we are concerned, in the British Parliament – "only Parliament is sovereign".

This tries to give the impression that the "democratic" Scots have a different "constitutional tradition" from the cap-doffing, benighted English, and that the stuffy old British Parliament is out of step with the "Scottish tradition" in particular.

That is a total (and deliberate) misreading of democratic politics.

Here is the deal: We can identify two different types of sovereignty (which is to say "authority"). The first is the Democratic Sovereignty which is exercised by any people, anywhere in the world, whenever they vote to establish a new parliament.

The second is Legal Sovereignty. That is the sovereignty exercised by any democratically-elected parliament, anywhere in the world, to create and pass its own laws. Without Legal Sovereignty, a parliament would be unable to function as a parliament – whether it is Westminster, or Holyrood, or any parliament in the world.

That is, legally the Parliament makes the rules which the courts obey, but democratically it is the people who make the Parliament in the first place.

There is nothing whatsoever distinctly "Scottish" or "English" in these two concepts, nor are they in any way "opposed" to each other. Democratic society could not exist without both of those concepts. Both Scotland and England recognise both of those principles, and the British Parliament recognises, combines, and manifests, both of those principles utterly.

Those who claim that Scottish sovereignty rests "with the people" but somehow in England and Wales it rests only with "Parliament" are making no distinction between the exercise of democratic sovereignty and the exercise of legal sovereignty.

This fact won't stop Scottish Nationalists like Ms Sturgeon and her followers, continuing to talk up a supposed difference. They do this in order to try to make it look like Scotland doesn't belong within the British political structure.

We've written more on this, and we've also pointed out how a concept of sovereignty which vests it entirely in "the people" is a potentially dangerous notion which can be used to justify violent rebellion.

Some politicians may try to claim that their allegiance is to "the people" or "the nation" rather than to the Queen.

However, to pledge allegiance to the Queen is not merely to pledge allegiance to Mrs. Windsor. It is to pledge allegiance to the National Icon, and thereby to pledge allegiance to the people of the nation, and the nation itself, which she symbolically represents.

Moreover, by pledging allegiance to the Queen – the collective symbol of the people and the nation – a politician is effectively making a very inclusive statement. He or she rises, in theory at least, above the factional identities and loyalties of their party, which may speak only for certain sections of "the people", and which sometimes exclude, or is hostile, to others.

Those politicians who want to bypass the Queen and see the Oath of Allegiance replaced with a direct commitment to "the people" or "the nation" need to explain how this differs from what, effectively, is being done at the moment, and why their idea would necessarily represent a more progressive moral order.

As above, the United Kingdom is a democracy and government rests on the will of the people – however unsatisfactorily some may consider it expressed within our present Party system.

The sovereignty of the people, both individually and collectively, is exercised at the ballot box and "national sovereignty" is exercised through the governing institutions of the nation, including Parliament.

The Crown is the term for the national governing authority. The Queen is the person – the embodiment in human form – of the Crown.

Vesting a symbol of national sovereignty in the Queen in this way, does not deprive the people of it. Pledging loyalty to the Queen in this capacity is not depriving the people of it. It simply provides a focused and tangible symbol of the people's sovereignty.

Therefore, pledging allegiance to the Queen is pledging loyalty to her as the visible representative of the sovereign power which ultimately belongs to the people of the nation.

The sovereignty of the people and the sovereignty of the Queen are not two incompatible ideas. It is all quite democratic!

"Can the Queen refuse to give her Royal Assent?"
The Queen is obliged to obey "the will of her Ministers" and if a Bill has been passed by both the Commons and the Lords, then it will automatically receive the Royal Assent. It is not realistic to imagine that the Queen can seriously refuse to give her assent to such Bills.

"Is the Royal Prerogative being Exploited by the PM?"
Whether this may or may not be the case, it is not an argument to abolish the Crown. These powers would exist whether or not you pre-fixed the word "Royal" to them and whether or not the Monarchy existed. This is an argument to examine the powers of the Prime Minister.

"Why does the Act of Settlement forbid a Catholic Monarch?"
The Act of Settlement of 1701 decrees that the monarch cannot be a Roman Catholic, and neither the Monarch nor the heir to the throne can marry a Roman Catholic. This may seem anachronistic, in our multi-religious society today, but there is - whatever one may think of it - a reason.

At the Queen's coronation she is asked, "Will you solemnly promise and swear to govern the Peoples of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland … and of your Possessions and the other Territories to any of them belonging or pertaining, according to their respective laws and customs? … Will you to your power cause Law and Justice, in Mercy, to be executed in all your judgements? … Will you to the utmost of your power maintain the Laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel? Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law?"

The Protestant doctrine is that the national monarch is supreme governor, next under God, of all estates in his or her realm.

At the Pope's coronation it is said to him, "Receive the Tiara adorned with three crowns, and know that thou art Father of Kings and Princes, Ruler of the World, and Vicar on Earth of Jesus Christ."

The Roman Catholic doctrine is that the Pope has international authority over all national monarchs. Thus, the Protestant and Catholic conceptions of monarchy are quite different.

A practising Catholic monarch would submit to the Pope as the highest temporal and spiritual authority in the land, and this would have religious, constitutional, political and social implications for the country - although the extent to which these would impact upon an increasingly secular society, is indeed arguable.

Protestants would advocate that the time to abolish the Act of Settlement is when the Pope abolishes his absolute claims. However, don't expect a resolution tomorrow. This one could run and run!

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