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By royal command

Brian Taylor | 16:22 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2007

And so, when it finally happened, it was a royal command performance. Tony Blair has written to Alex Salmond - on behalf of the Queen.

You’ll recall that Mr Salmond previously satirised the absence of communication from the current denizen of Downing Street, 10. (“He never phones, he never writes.”)

Now a letter has arrived. Not a missive of congratulation, but an offer to put forward Mr Salmond for membership of the Queen’s Privy Council.

The letter begins: “Dear Alex” and closes: “Yours ever, Tony.” Mr Salmond has graciously accepted, with only a tiny smirk at the irony of it all.

A couple of questions. Why wasn’t Alex Salmond offered membership of the Privy Council previously, when he was leader of the SNP group at Westminster? Donald Stewart was made a privy counsellor when he led the SNP group.

Answer? Nominations are made by the prime minister of the day.

More to the point, what’s the gig? What is the first minister joining?

The Privy Council used to be deeply serious stuff. Early monarchs, both in England and Scotland, relied upon their separate councils for big-league governmental advice (Scotland’s council was subsumed at the Union).

In these more democratic days, the Privy Council has declined in importance to the point where it is largely ceremonial - although it retains powers over the status of universities and its judicial committee still has clout, notably over colonial and Commonwealth disputes.

(More recently, said committee was empowered to rule over disputes with devolved administrations - but that role is being shifted to the new Supreme Court.)

To join, you swear an awful (literal meaning) oath, including the promise to defend Her Majesty “against all Foreign Princes, Persons, Prelates, States or Potentates” who might wish her ill.

Even today, if a PM wishes to share sensititive information with Opposition leaders, the conversation is said to take place “on Privy Council terms.”

Some might wonder why a political leader who wants to end the British State would agree to join one of its key organs of dignified, established power?

Answer – to reflect the status of the office of first minister. Either way, the (soon to be) Right Honourable Alex Salmond is now definitely PC.


  • 1.
  • At 05:17 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Steven Manson wrote:

Can someone help with an obvious question? I know George Reid was made PC in 2003, but is the rank of PC bestowed on all First Ministers? Is Jack McConnell a Privy Counsellor?

  • 2.
  • At 06:26 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • gary wrote:

It is an absolute disgrace that a Scottish politician has to swear an oath of allegiance to what is effectively an english monarch ( unelected of course ) in order to join. Independence is comming! nothing can stop it !!!!

  • 3.
  • At 07:04 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • John Wilson wrote:

It seems that Mr Blair is anxious for a little "good press" from Brian Taylor and his fellow (feral?)journalists. But not to the extent of showing magnanimity by congratulating the First Minister on his success in the May elections. His 2 sentences to offer a Privy counsellorship on behalf of the Queen that Blair is supposed to serve were I am sure written with gritted teeth. At least the Queen loves Scotland and the Scots.

  • 4.
  • At 08:49 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • john duguid wrote:

congratulatins Mr Blair you have at last realised scotland has a first minister

  • 5.
  • At 09:05 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • sacrebleu wrote:

I'm astonished that he's not already a Privy Councillor. Custom and practice is that the leaders of all the main political parties are offered this.

Yet another snub to Scotland, that it has had to take him becoming FM before being granted this 'honour'?

  • 6.
  • At 09:24 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Phil wrote:

John Wilson wrote:
"At least the Queen loves Scotland and the Scots."

Do we really know this?

  • 7.
  • At 09:44 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Cam wrote:

The very tone of Tony Blair·s gritted teeth offer to Alex Salmond and his refusal to offer congratulations on the SNP Holyrood victory is a pointer to what is to come. Labour always assumed that Scotland was their fiefdom and will bitterly resent the verdict of the the Scottish voters.
However,the dirtier they play it,the more the SNP will benefit.
Whichever party is seen as the most reasonable and non confrontational will emerge as the winner in Scotland.

  • 8.
  • At 10:25 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Bob Blair wrote:

Interesting blog as always Brian, it must have been extremely hard for Tony to finally break the silence and write to Alex. It has to be said SNP seem to be doing more in their first month than the previous administration Lab/Dumbs did in 8 years.

My advice to Mr Sammond would be keep up the good work, you are doing an outstanding job so far. Bring on the independance vote, I know where my vote will go.

  • 9.
  • At 10:58 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • sacrebleu wrote:

I'm astonished that he's not already a Privy Councillor. Custom and practice is that the leaders of all the main political parties are offered this.

Yet another snub to Scotland, that it has had to take him becoming FM before being granted this 'honour'?

  • 10.
  • At 11:10 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Mick McAndrews wrote:

Garys comments are somewhat of the beam..... regardless of what role you would wish for the Quessn the reality is she is the Head of State for the entire United Kingdom and NOT just England.... I

I learnt many years ago that if you really want to change something then first of all you have top accept the reality of the situation and then move forward..... The same principle applies to that of Independence yes it may be coming but let us not forget that Alex Salmond is First Minister by nothing more than the skin of his teeth.... As to question is Jack McConnell a Member of the Privy Council yes he is.... Donald Dewar would already have been a PC before devolution as he was a Member of the National Government and as for dear old Henry I am sure he was too but 100% certain

  • 11.
  • At 12:39 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • ted wrote:

In respose to Gary's comment

I view the Queen as the UK monarch not the English monarch. When Scotland becomes independent the Queen or subsequent monarch will again be in the position King James was prior to 1707. The monarch of two independent countries.
Whether an independent Scotland should be a repuplic is a question that should be settled later.
This seems to be the position Ian Hamilton has adopted following the Queen's recent visit to Scotland to greet Alec Salmond. From Ian Hamiltons blog

" What we have here is an acknowledgement by the Head of State that a break-up of the United Kingdom is not merely possible, but is an event to be prepared for. I give credit to Betty Windsor, to Queen Elizabeth. She has her eye on the main chance. She does not want to lose Scotland, and she has a clearer view of the future than any of her English Ministers. When the break-up of the United Kingdom comes she is determined to see that it will be a gentle parting and a realignment among ‘her people’.

No doubt after independence I will vote for a Scottish Republic. That is for the future. Last week Elizabeth of Windsor acted as a worthy Queen of Scots. I never thought I would write these words.

God Save the Queen."

That will do for me as well. Independence first. The question of the monarchy later.


Thanks for the blog. Best thing of its kind in Scotland


  • 13.
  • At 02:10 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Tony McDaid wrote:

Alex Salmond must be laughing up his sleeve - he has hardly needed to do anything to boost his popularity.
Between Jack McConnell and Tony Blair's ungracious behaviour over his narrow election victory, and Kirsty Wark's *ahem* controversial interview, New Labour and their sympathisers seem intent on creating a tide of public sympathy for a man who was previously regarded as arrogant.
I must admit, I longed for a opposing parties in Westminster and Holyrood in order to see what the cat would do among the pigeons, but never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined this scenario. It is fantastic! Not for partisan reasons, but for the very fact Scottish politics just got interesting.
There is a very real sense of the 'new' politics envisioned at devolution's inception - heck, even the Tories under Goldie are game for it! It's just a shame New Labour don't seem to want to play along.

  • 14.
  • At 02:55 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Ian Harriss wrote:

To correct Gary, the Queen is not only Queen of England but also Queen of Scotland. The thrones were unified in 1603 when James VI of Scotland also became James I of England (so in reality the Scottish Monarchy absorbed the English). The Queen is also formally the Queen of Great Britain not just England. As other posters have pointed out the Queen also spends a large amount of time in Scotland. I fail to see what relevance Alex Salmond swearing an oath to the Queen to become a Member of the Privy council has to the debate on independence. I also believe that official SNP policy is to retain the Monarchy in any case.

  • 15.
  • At 05:14 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • R.Lindsay wrote:

I’m of the opinion that Tony Blair wasn’t being deliberately rude to Alex Salmond, I just feel that he believes he has more important issues to deal with! Scotland has always been a side issue at Westminster, something that was talked about if nothing else was happening that was ‘more important’ – You see, devolution was supposed to keep us happy, contented and quiet but it backfired on Labour. Instead it has invigorated us because we can actually see issues being debated that are relevant to our lives. After 300 years of political oppression Independence is in our grasp – Lets make it happen! Our only shame is why we didn’t make this happen sooner!

  • 16.
  • At 06:43 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Craig wrote:

Money for peerages, apartments in Bristol,B.A.E.bribery scandal,weapons of mass destruction,six million pound victorian house in Knightsbridge London and of course lets not forget about Mrs Blairs after dinner speaker career. Mr Blair is obviously too busy to congratulate Mr Salmond on his astonishing victory.

  • 17.
  • At 06:48 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • somerferg wrote:

Quelle surprise - Tony BLiar reluctantly puts forward FM Alex Salmond for membership of the PC. No doubt done to try and placate the electorate of Scotland who have seen him twist and turn over so many issues. The sooner the Scots boot this cursed union into touch the better and do away with this outdated nonsense.

  • 18.
  • At 08:04 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Alex Johnston wrote:

Queen Elizabeth is not just the head of state for the UK she is also Queen in 16 independant states: Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, and Saint Kitts and Nevis. It would seem there is precedence for contries gaining indepandance but retaining the monarchy. The decision on who is head of state is not directly related to independance.

  • 19.
  • At 08:05 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Jon wrote:

I rather suspect there's a lot of folks out there who are a bit like gary, people who think now the SNP are running Scotland, with one more seat than their nearest rivals, there's going to be revolution (bit like people I knew in '97 who rejoiced in the streets and almost declared the UK as a soviet state!) I dare say once 80% of the SNP programme has been pushed through and a couple of gaffes have been committed then everyone will go back to their old habits of moaning about politics. Oh and frankly the current head of state is not really that English is she! She's from a German line with a Greek husband and ..... and SCOTTISH mother!!! Need to go back a long way for a truely English one 1000 years or so

  • 20.
  • At 08:49 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Peter, Fife wrote:

Alex Salmond's proposal for membership of the Privy Council was more an attempt by the current Prime minister to limit the damage he has brought upon himself by his childish behaviour towards the First Minister; if Gordon Brown establishes a reasonable working relationship with the First Minister this will further tarnish Tony Blair’s image and have the potential to boost Mr Brown’s image in Scotland.

Jack McConnell was elected First Minister on 22 November 2001, and was formally appointed into office by the Queen on 26 November 2001; the Queen subsequently approved that Jack McConnell MSP be sworn of Her Majesty's most honourable Privy Council on the 3rd December 2001.

If we examine this timescale from appointment as first Minister to Royal approval to join the Privy council, for Jack McConnell this took eleven days; currently it has taken forty two days alone for the offer to be made to Alex Salmond, let alone Royal approval, somewhat tardy an action by Mr Blair.


You fail to note that for 80% of the SNP's programme to be 'pushed' through, there will need to be collaborations in each case involving at least three parties or groupings.

Only the curse of majorities has led to such indiscriminate forcing through of bad legislation.

Welcome to the New Scottish Politics.


  • 22.
  • At 09:38 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Colin Wilson wrote:

At one point, the writer states "the Privy Council has declined in importance to the point where it is largely ceremonial"; but later he describes it as "one of its (the British state's) key organs of dignified, established power".

I can't help noticing an apparent contradiction there, and I wonder whether some clarification would be in order.

  • 23.
  • At 09:56 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • R.Lindsay wrote:

I would like to see us adopt a Maori type dance with Alex Salmond at the front leading the way to ward off any potential spoilers of the Independence party – On a serious note I’m slightly concerned about the influence the UK wide media could have on public opinion in Scotland if they choose to discredit the SNP. The clever spinners and shear dominance of the media centred south of the border could have a really unfair impact on our wee country. In fact, we have seen a little of this already with the dispute on energy supply. Surely it’s obvious, that we, with our small population and large resources will not have to rely on nuclear! Where as England with its large population and limited resources may have to. I’m no expert on the subject, although I do work in the energy industry, but to put things into perspective I would imagine that Scotland probably uses less Energy than London alone. Have I gone off the subject, Sorry!

  • 24.
  • At 10:31 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • L McCart wrote:

Why are people so keen on scottish seperation? So you can replace a democratically elected government (in which scots are over represented) with a undemocratic EU?

Is it because of Labours awful policies? Senior members are all Scots.

Why not vote for more devolution under a federal U.K. ? 300 years we spread democracy, fantastic and fair law and justice (including the abolishment of slavery around the world) why end it? Half of Scots are of English Ancestry anyway, whether you like it or not.

I am a Scot, but also British as my family are from all over the U.K. and I firmly believe united we stand divided we fall, we've fought countless wars and have won for the right to self determination.

For those who are a bit dumb, our current Monarch isn't English, they decend from a line of Scots. James was a Scot who merged both kingdoms into the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

History pushed our islands into unity, and history will punish for breakign up such a great entity, not to mention for breaking family links (I live in England but have at leat 50 first cousins in Scotland).

  • 25.
  • At 10:47 AM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Stonesong wrote:

Was there not a fuss about Henry McLeish being made a member of the Privy Council but not actually being invested until after he resigned?

And will Alex do a Rosie and write something on his hand?

  • 26.
  • At 12:37 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • PMK wrote:

Just a thought - if the Queen is so very 'Scottish' then why is she Elizabeth II and not Elizabeth I? There has never previously been a Scottish Monarch called Elizabeth. Funny how the James' had to be first and whatever, but Queen Bess is supposed to be the first for the whole UK somehow!

  • 27.
  • At 12:40 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Peter Innes wrote:

To clarify in relation to a few previous posts, SNP policy is that the question over retention of the monarchy would be settled in a post-independence referendum, should public opinion require as such.

  • 28.
  • At 01:07 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Steven Manson -

Yes, Jack McConnell is a member of the Privy Council for being FM, as was Henry McLeish. Donald Dewar was already a member due him having been a member of the Westminster cabinet.

  • 29.
  • At 01:17 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Peter Thomson wrote:

Hud on a mo!

Didn't Wee Eck say he was pro the United Kingdom but against the Union Treaty?

So what's the problem then - apart from Tony?

  • 30.
  • At 02:37 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Stuck-in-Osaka wrote:

How about Nicky Sturgeon and the Presiding Officer are they PCs now?

  • 31.
  • At 03:04 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Fran Saban wrote:

The more New Labour display their contempt for the SNP administration in Scotland, the more likely it is that they will be punished at the next Westminster elections by losing more seats if not to the SNP then to the Lib Dems.

What kind of majority is GB expecting in 2009/10 as it now sits at just 67 with 40 of those being Scottish Labour MPs?

Political suicide, if you ask me....

  • 32.
  • At 03:05 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Dorothy Rothschild wrote:

I'm foreign! Now I want to be a Foreign Potentate. Where do I sign up?

  • 33.
  • At 04:15 PM on 25 Jun 2007,
  • Jon wrote:


Thanks for the reply. Hey, I don't keep my ear to the ground as such, so I acknowledge that there needs to be a consensus when it comes to 'pushing' programmes through. Yes and in having a situation as there now is at Holyrood of course the SNP will need to again support for policy from other parties - if it doesn't then the policy is unlikely to become legislation. I just don't feel this is the 'revolution' some people would like to think it's been, including many of those to type their comments on this message board. My opion, everyone's entitled to theirs. Oh, and sorry for the misspelling in the undersigned, its not because I'm an uncaring stinking Sassenach - its because I can't find the 'A' with accute accent (no, not a cute accent - I'm not American)


  • 34.
  • At 11:33 AM on 28 Jun 2007,
  • Will wrote:

In response to L McCart

The reason that independance is now a popular issue is this:

1) The Scottish parliment is composed of "less than top rate" politicians, and they are abismal when it comes to debating against extremists like the SNP.

2) SNP activists are staggeringly ignorant. They still hold superstitious beliefs such as: Culloden was a Scotland/England thing, The Union is bad for Scotland, Charles Edward Stuart is the "true King", etc, etc.

If you don't believe talk to them.

  • 35.
  • At 03:55 AM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • peter mc creadie wrote:

dear will,

make up your charles, edward or stuart the true king!!!!!!
resist the voices, will, and go into the light!

  • 36.
  • At 11:18 PM on 01 Jul 2007,
  • Simon Hedges wrote:

PMK wrote: "If Queen is so very 'Scottish' then why is she Elizabeth II and not Elizabeth I? There has never previously been a Scottish Monarch called Elizabeth. Funny how the James' had to be first and whatever, but Queen Bess is supposed to be the first for the whole UK somehow!"
James was the king of two Kingdoms, Scotland and England, so got two numbers. The Queen (as it's after 1707) is Queen of one Kingdom: The United Kingdom. The regnal number of the monarch of the UK is always highest number of the monarch in England (since 1066) or Scotland. Hence Queen Elizabeth II. Unfortunately, no monarch since Union has had a higher numbered Scottish name (e.g. Alexander, David, James), but some have had higher numbered English ones (Elizabeth, William, Edward). Personally, I think it would have been a nice touch if they'd named Prince William "David", but hey...

  • 37.
  • At 12:32 PM on 02 Jul 2007,
  • Donnie Colquhoun wrote:

Why do we need an English monarch to open a Scottish Parliament? Surely it is time for us to move on and become a proper country with our own elected head of state, not some second class import who has little or no interest.

Am I unique in thinking that a country is better served by a head of state and head of government that do not need to visit.

Donnie Colquhoun

  • 38.
  • At 07:17 PM on 14 Aug 2007,
  • Edmund Michael Holt wrote:

How about allowing the English to vote in a referendum on Scottish independance? I suspect, as we are spending our tax money to give the Scots 20% more per head than we spend on ourselves, there would be a big majority for it. Alternatively let us have a referendum on independance for England.

  • 39.
  • At 01:03 PM on 15 Aug 2007,
  • Bryce Miller wrote:

Edmund Michael Holt:
How about letting France, Germany, Italy, Spain, et al vote in a referendum on whether the UK should join the Eurozone? I suspect there would be a big majority for it...

I think a referendum on independence for England would be a much better idea!

  • 40.
  • At 11:31 PM on 17 Aug 2007,
  • Sandy Wallace wrote:

Independence is coming. Aye Right. Our grinning FM got 31% of the popular vote mostly by hoovering up sun tan Tommy's. He did it against a destitute Labour and bewildered Tory party. What will he do if they get organised and he has to take some unpopular decisions. Tell me please, how does 31% of the vote translate into a majority for breaking up the UK? Salmond was born a British subject and he will die one. I wish him a long and happy retirement before then.

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