What is the SNP’s Vision for the Monarchy?

Although the draft Scottish Independence Bill scrupulously avoids making changes to the Monarchy, it seems doubtful that the Scottish National Party will be content to let the matter rest there. On the contrary, I suspect they will try to persuade the Constitutional Convention to make significant alterations to the Queen’s role under the permanent constitution. I recently stumbled upon two interesting documents that might shed some light on the SNP’s ultimate vision for the Monarchy.

Citizens Not Subjects: The Parliament and Constitution of an Independent Scotland (1997) set out the SNP’s constitutional platform in the days before devolution. Although the document envisioned that the Queen would remain Head of State of Scotland “for as long as the people so wish,” the Crown’s powers would be greatly curtailed:

The Head of State will represent the people of Scotland on ceremonial, state, and international occasions but will have no executive power. There will be no Scottish Privy Council.

Whilst the Scottish Government and Parliament will keep the Head of State closely informed of current political business, the Head of State shall have no role except advisory to the Government, and such advice shall be limited to matters of constitutional propriety. Parliamentary bills will not be subject to Royal assent but instead to certification by the Chancellor [the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer] that they have duly passed all their stages (Scottish National Party 1997, 8).

This represents a dramatic departure from the status quo, and it would effectively reduce the Queen to the same position as the Emperor of Japan (i.e. a figurehead without any constitutional powers). Not only would she lose her formal prerogatives, but her longstanding right to encourage and warn her ministers would be severely restricted as well since she could only comment on “matters of constitutional propriety.”

Flag of Scotland. By Cayetano - (Scotland flag  Uploaded by Smooth_O) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Flag of Scotland. By Cayetano – (Scotland flag Uploaded by Smooth_O) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, the SNP proposed that, when the Queen wasn’t in Scotland, the Chancellor would act as Head of State (Scottish National Party 1997, 9). In essence, the Chancellor would play the role that the Governor General plays in other Commonwealth Realms, and he or she would arguably be Scotland’s de facto Head of State for most of the year. While it makes sense for someone to act on the Queen’s behalf in distant countries like Canada or Australia, the case for delegation is less clear in Scotland. Given its proximity to England, it seems unnecessary to have a royal locum tenens, unless of course the goal is simply to sideline the Monarchy.

By 2002, the SNP’s approach to the Monarchy had undergone a dramatic shift. In their draft constitution, the SNP seemed content to let the Queen keep her formal powers:

The Head of State shall be responsible for the exercise of all lawful governmental functions in Scotland, excepting functions expressly delegated to Ministers or other public authorities. The Head of State shall exercise such functions only upon the advice of his or her Ministers who shall be chosen from among the Members of, and who shall be directly answerable to, the Parliament of Scotland, and who shall be selected with a view to their ability to command and retain the confidence of Parliament, and whose appointment shall be confirmed by Parliament (Scottish National Party 2002, 11).

This is a much more orthodox approach, though it does seem to preclude the existence of reserve powers that can be exercised at the Queen’s discretion. However, the constitution did give the Monarch some leeway in choosing a Prime Minister if the Scottish Parliament was unable to agree on a candidate (usually, her role would be limited to formally appointing the person chosen by Parliament) (Scottish National Party 2002, 12). Interestingly, the SNP still wanted the Chancellor to stand in for the Queen when she wasn’t in Scotland. It may be significant that a footnote to the 2002 draft constitution promised that the SNP would hold a referendum on the Monarchy during the first post-independence Parliament. Perhaps the SNP saw little reason to worry about the Crown’s powers when it might only be around for a short while.

Although the SNP has ostensibly moved toward a more traditional understanding of the Crown and its powers, I wouldn’t be surprised if they eventually reverted to their 1997 position. If there’s an upsurge of republican sentiment in an independent Scotland and it looks like the Monarchy might be swept away, the SNP might be content to let the Crown remain as-is during its brief existence. But if the Monarchy is going to be around for the foreseeable future, they may resume their calls for stronger constitutional limitations on the Queen’s powers.

What do you think? If the Queen is going to be Scotland’s Head of State, should she retain her current powers, or should she be limited to ceremonial functions?

Works Referenced

Scottish National Party. Citizens Not Subjects: The Parliament and Constitution of an Independent Scotland. Edinburgh: Scottish National Party, 1997.

______. A Constitution for a Free Scotland. N.p.: n.p., 2002.

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