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Loss of unifying queen could fray the bonds of fractious UK

The bonds holding the United Kingdom together could be about to fracture following the death of Queen Elizabeth, described as its “invisible glue.”

September 13, 2022
By Jill Lawless
13 September 2022

Queen Elizabeth II has been likened to the invisible glue holding the United Kingdom together. Some think the reign of King Charles III will see those bonds come unstuck, giving new momentum to Scotland’s push for independence.

But the fact the queen died last week at her beloved Highland retreat, Balmoral Castle, has made Scotland the focus of commemorations watched around the globe in the first days after her death. That has served as a reminder of the monarchy’s deep ties to Scotland — and could provide a boost for the union.

Scottish historian Tom Devine said because by “extraordinary serendipity” the queen died in Scotland, “it was possible for the world to see the relationship between the queen and this country.”

Well-wishers outside Balmoral in Scotland on Saturday following the death of the Queen. (Owen Humphreys/PA)

“It was a fitting end to a life of service and a life of concern for the four nations — not simply one nation — of the U.K.,” he said.

In a touching display of respect, thousands of people on Sunday lined the 280km route from Balmoral to Edinburgh as the queen’s coffin was driven in a slow procession to the Scottish capital.

On Monday, the coffin was carried along Edinburgh’s medieval Royal Mile to St. Giles’ Cathedral, where thousands more are expected to pay their respects over the next day.

The queen had deep ties to Scotland. Besides spending her summer months at Balmoral, her mother, the late Queen Mother, was Scottish and as a child the queen grew up playing on her grandparents’ estate in central Scotland.

Britain Royals The hearse carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II has arrived in Edinburgh.AP PHOTO
The hearse carrying the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II moving through the streets of Edinburgh. (Jane Barlow/Pool Photo via AP)

So far there have been only tiny protests by anti-monarchist demonstrators. One woman was arrested in Edinburgh on Sunday for breaching the peace after brandishing a profane sign calling for the abolition of the monarchy.

King Charles III has moved quickly to stress that he will be a monarch for the whole of the UK, undertaking a national tour during his first days on the throne.

He was in Scotland on Monday accompanying his mother’s coffin, and he plans to visit Northern Ireland and Wales later in the week, attending memorial services in Belfast and Cardiff.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are all part of the UK but have distinct histories — and complex ties with England, which dominates the UK in both population and politics.

William, Prince of Wales, and Catherine, Princess of Wales greet members of the public, outside Windsor Castle, following the death of the Queen. (Reuters/Peter Nicholls)

Some Welsh nationalists have objected to Prince William being recently given the title of Prince of Wales – a title first given to the heir to the throne after the English conquest of Wales in the 14th century.

The status of the monarchy has always been fraught in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: unionists who consider themselves British and nationalists who see themselves as Irish.

That split fueled decades of violence known as “The Troubles,” and remains a deep divide. But in a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of the Irish Republican Army-linked party Sinn Fein are attending commemorative events for the queen in Belfast.

Sinn Fein vice president Michelle O’Neill praised “the significant contribution Queen Elizabeth made to the advancement of peace and reconciliation between the different traditions on our island, and between Ireland and Britain during the years of the peace process.”

In 2014, the Queen said that Scotland should think carefully before voting for independence. (PA)

Scotland and England have been governed under the same monarch since 1603, and formally unified in 1707. But Scotland has distinct educational and legal systems and, since 1999, its own parliament.

Relations now between the Conservative government in London and the pro-independence Scottish administration in Edinburgh are tense.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has pledged to hold such an independence vote in October 2023.

But new Prime Minister Liz Truss, like Johnson, says her government will not agree, and without its approval a referendum would not be binding.

As monarch, Charles is required to remain politically neutral. His mother caused a stir in 2014 when she remarked that Scots should “think very carefully” before voting – a remark widely seen as opposing independence.

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