By Svenja O’Donnell and Robert Hutton
After Elizabeth I died childless in 1603, her distant relative James VI of Scotland came down to take the throne and unite the two crowns, becoming James I of England. He never came back.
More than four centuries later, Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond says that if his campaign for independence prevails in this week’s referendum, he would keep Queen Elizabeth II, the 12th monarch of the United Kingdom, and she would be “proud to be Queen of Scots.”
For Scottish nationalists who say they are on the cusp of achieving their ambition of unraveling the U.K. political union that dates back 307 years, ditching the monarchy is a step too far. Rather than a republic, they want to keep the queen as head of a newly independent state.
“It would be a very smooth transition as she is already the Queen in Scotland,” said Robert Hazell, director of the constitution unit at University College London. “It’s a country she knows very well and loves very well.”
The monarchy is the most enduring symbol of union between England and Scotland along with the pound sterling, which the nationalists also want to retain.
The current queen has a home built by Queen Victoria in northeast Scotland, Balmoral Castle. Her mother, also Elizabeth, was related to the Scottish Royal House with the family seat at Glamis Castle. The queen’s eldest son and heir, Prince Charles, is often pictured in a kilt.
With the outcome of this week’s referendum impossible to predict, the queen’s status is one of the few things that wouldn’t be up for negotiation should politicians end up sitting down to hammer out a divorce settlement. The argument rather is over how the Queen might feel about the carving up of a country she’s ruled for more than six decades.
While royal convention keeps her from expressing an opinion publicly, she told a well-wisher after a church service near Balmoral that she hoped voters would “think very carefully about the future,” the BBC reported. “No” campaigners suggested the comment favored their side.
“As a constitutional monarch she is completely impartial on these matters, that has been stated many times,” Salmond said at a campaigning event in Edinburgh yesterday. “Nobody seriously, apart from the more frenetic unionist press would seek to persuade or tell people otherwise. And I look forward to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth being Queen of Scots.”
Salmond and Prime Minister David Cameron have both met with the 88-year-old monarch in the past month as polls showed the Yes campaign was gaining ground. The queen remained silent on the issue dividing the nation.
“The sovereign’s constitutional impartiality is an established principle of our democracy,” a spokesperson for Buckingham Palace said. “As such, the monarch is above politics and those in political office have a duty to ensure that this remains the case. Her majesty is firmly of the view that this is a matter for the people of Scotland.”
As well as the monarchy, the nationalists plan to keep the pound, a seamless border with the rest of the U.K. and the Bank of England. The opposing Better Together campaign has said those arrangements don’t add up to independence, while the main U.K. political parties have said a currency union won’t work.
Scotland would become the 17th country with the queen as head of state, alongside places such as Australia and Canada as well as Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands.
“The position of Her Majesty The Queen and head of state will form an intrinsic part of the constitutional platform in place for independence in 2016,” the Scottish government says in its blueprint for a new state. “For two independent states to share the same monarch is not a novel or unique situation.”
The question of whether an independent Scotland will wish to retain a monarchy may arise as the new nation crafts a constitution, and the question of the Queen’s successor arises, said Hazell at University College London.
The Scots would also have to decide whether they wished to sign up to the current succession rules, which bar a Roman Catholic from taking the throne. Those rules date from before the union, and were designed to protect the Protestant reformation in England. The monarch remains the head of the Church of England as its “supreme governor.”
Any debate about that could stoke existing sectarian tensions: Trains running between Glasgow and Edinburgh often have posters warning of prosecution for sectarianism, a phenomenon that successive Scottish governments have referred to as “Scotland’s shame.”
The English insistence on a Protestant monarch led them in 1688 to depose James I’s great-grandson, James II of England and VII of Scotland, because of his Catholic sympathies.
Many Scots refused to accept this, and his son James, living in France, became known as “The King Over the Water.” He landed in Scotland in 1715, hoping to lead an army south and take the crown. Finding little support, he returned to France.
His son, Bonnie Prince Charlie, made an initially more successful attempt to take the crown in 1745. He successfully invaded England, before retreating and being defeated the following year at Culloden, the last battle on British soil.
“Scotland would go through a constitution exercise and it’s possible one question on the agenda would be do we want a monarchy or a republic?” said Hazell. “We can’t predict how Scotland would decide that.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alan Crawford at [email protected] Rodney Jefferson