Scottish socialists push democratic republic

Monday, September 1, 2014
Colin Fox, Scottish Socialist Party spokesperson and member of Yes Scotland advisory board.

The Scottish Socialist Party is pushing a “yes” vote in Scotland’s September 18 referendum on independence.

SSP national spokesperson Colin Fox is part of the Advisory Board of Yes Scotland, the cross-party campaign for Scottish independence. He wrote a pamphlet with a vision for what an independent Scotland could look like, called “For a Modern, Democratic Republic”.

It weighs into the debate on whether an independent Scotland would keep a monarchy and highlights the need for an elected, representative and accountable head of state. An section is published below, abridged from

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The SSP supports an independent socialist Scotland, a modern democratic republic. For socialists, the entire concept of monarchy is antiquated, class-ridden and anachronistic.

The world today is guided by higher values of democracy, accountability and equality. Our case for a republic stands in our nation’s finest democratic traditions.

For the SSP, feudal institutions based on hereditary privileges and “divine rights” passed down to monarchs from “The Almighty” have no part to play in modern political structures and democratic constitutions let alone at their apex.

The British monarchy is clearly not modern, it is patently not democratic and it is certainly not egalitarian.

People have been making the case for a republic throughout the ages, often in the face of severe punishments. They posed questions because they arise inevitably and because the British political establishment continuously fails to provide satisfactory answers.

Can the monarchy ever be defended on democratic grounds? Is the Queen’s role really as benign as her defendants would have us believe? Or does she in fact hold substantial “Crown Powers” in reserve for future occasions?

Tory MP Nadine Dorries claimed recently: “The Queen’s presence on the throne has brought much needed order, stability and continuity to Britain for more than 60 years.”

If so, this common justification for the monarchy exposes her to some very serious charges indeed. For the question inevitably arises, where did she get those powers?

After all, monarchists like Dorries like to claim the Queen’s role is merely ceremonial. They cannot have it both ways.

SNP and monarchy

A more surprising advocate of the monarchy is Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond. He insists: “The Queen is Head of State of 15 Commonwealth countries and could easily perform the same function in an independent Scotland.”

But our first minister curiously fails to mention that the 53 other Commonwealth countries refuse to have the British monarch as their Head of State.

Jamaica, one of the 15 nations Salmond cites, has just voted to drop the Queen and become a modern, democratic, republic.

New Zealand’s prime minister went on record earlier this year to say he fully expects his country to be a republic by the end of the decade. And had Quebec secured its independence from Canada in its recent referendum, it would also have replaced the Queen as Head of State forthwith.

No one would argue Britain’s political institutions are run directly from Buckingham Palace. But it would be equally foolish to suggest the monarchy plays no role in political life.

It is most certainly not an institution content to amuse tourists, entertain foreign dignitaries or fill the pages of Hello magazine. After all the official Opening of Parliament is not yet a privilege afforded to the latest winner of I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!

Those who argue this is a benign institution might like to consider two recent articles from the Daily Telegraph and The Guardian that show the monarchy is not content to keep out of politics.

Defying democracy

The Telegraph reported in January that “at least 39 Bills subject to Royal Approval have been vetoed by senior royals using their power to consent or block laws in areas such as higher education, paternity pay, child maintenance and Iraq”.

They reveal the Queen and Prince Charles repeatedly impeded the passage of bills awaiting “royal assent” in order to press for their preferred changes, thus defying the democratic will of parliament.

Internal Whitehall papers, says The Telegraph, “show that the Queen vetoed the Military Actions Against Iraq Bill in 1999, which aimed to transfer the power to authorise military strikes against Iraq from the Monarch to Parliament”.

Meanwhile The Guardian has been locked in a nine-year legal battle with the government over evidence that allegedly shows the heir to the British throne repeatedly tried to impede the will of parliament.

The Guardian has been repeatedly thwarted by the British attorney-general’s office, despite winning several court judgements, on the grounds “that it could cause constitutional problems that would seriously damage the Prince’s ability to perform his duties when he became King as it casts doubt on his political neutrality”.

The government believes publication of the correspondence “may undermine public support for the monarchy”.

The eminent legal scholar John Kirkhope highlights the gravity of such monarchical interference: “There has always been an implication that the monarchs’ prerogative powers are quaint and sweet but actually there is real influence and real power, albeit unaccountable.”

It is clear that the powers of the monarch are real and exercised with astonishing regularity. These episodes serve to remind us of the powers held in reserve by the monarchy for rather more profound challenges to the constitution.

Do people care? The polling company MORI estimates ten million people in Britain want a republic, with almost half the population of Scotland said to prefer that option.

The SSP believes is it time for an honest and thorough debate. No other party has our record of challenging the monarchy and upholding democracy in this country. Our members of Scottish parliament protested at having to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

We gathered with thousands of others to repeat our call for a modern, democratic, republic rather than attend the Queen’s official opening of the new Holyrood building in October 2004. Ours was the only party to do so. No other party in Scotland can hold a candle to the SSP’s commitment to a modern, democratic republic.

We believe the wise words of Thomas Paine still ring true regarding our political rights in the 21st century: “To elect, and to reject, is the prerogative of a free people everywhere.”

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From GLW issue 1023