UK

Scottish independence: What will happen to the Queen?

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles, Prince of Wales watch the Braemar Highland Games 2014 Image copyright Getty Images

Buckingham Palace has made it clear that the Queen does not wish to influence the Scottish referendum, saying it is "a matter for the people of Scotland". But would the Queen's role north of the border change if Scotland votes for independence?

The Royal Family's links with Scotland are well-known: Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire is one its most famous residences, bought for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert.

The Queen spends a week every year at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh, the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.

Prince Charles went to boarding school in Scotland and is often seen sporting a kilt.

The Royal Family also has Scottish titles - Prince Charles carries the title Duke of Rothesay, while the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are referred to as the Earl and Countess of Strathearn.

Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond is keen to stress these associations, pointing out that the union of the crowns predates the union of the parliaments which he wishes to end.

His government has always maintained that the Queen would still be "Queen of Scots" if the country votes "Yes" on 18 September.

Earlier this week, he said the Queen "would be proud" to be the monarch of an independent Scotland.

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Image caption Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Balmoral Castle, Aberdeenshire

However not everyone in the Yes camp agrees.

The Royal Family's future in Scotland has been questioned by pro-independence campaigners such as chair of the Yes Scotland campaign Dennis Canavan, who has said he personally favours a referendum on who should be the head of state.

Members of the Radical Independence movement - a coalition of activists on the left - would also like to enable Scotland to become a republic if it wants to do so.

Earlier this month, a YouGov poll suggested 54% of Scots favour keeping the monarchy if Scotland votes "Yes", compared with 39% who would like to see it scrapped. Among SNP voters this narrows to 46% compared with 39%, though the survey had a smaller sample size.

Although these figures indicate the monarchy still has more fans than it does detractors, in the UK as a whole support is higher, at 77%, and opposition is lower, at 17%, according to Ipsos MORI's latest survey.

Even if Mr Salmond gets his preference and the Queen remains head of state in an independent Scotland, her role would be likely to change, according to director of UCL's Constitution Unit, Professor Robert Hazell.

He says the Queen's duties would "depend on the role provided for head of state in Scotland's new written constitution".

The Scottish government has specified that under independence, the people of Scotland would be sovereign, whereas at present sovereignty rests with the Crown in Parliament.

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There is also the question of funding. The White Paper says it would be "right for an independent Scotland to continue to contribute to the expenses of the monarchy through taxes" but precise arrangements would be decided in post-referendum negotiations.

Holyrood Palace would presumably be under particular scrutiny here, since unlike Balmoral, it is partly funded by the public purse and its conservation is carried out by a Scottish government executive agency, Historic Scotland.

Such a situation is not unprecedented. The Queen's responsibilities in Scotland are "likely to be very similar to her role she fills in the Commonwealth realms of which she is head of state such as Australia and New Zealand", says Prof Hazell.

In most Commonwealth countries, the Queen is regularly briefed through a governor-general who acts as her representative.

So would a governor-general be introduced in Scotland?

Constitutional historian Lord Hennessy told BBC Radio 4's The World at One the idea has not been floated because of Westminster's insistence on not making any contingency plans for Scottish independence.

"I'd be very surprised if in any cupboard there was 'what do we do about HM Queen in the event of a Yes vote'," he says.


How might Scotland's decision affect the rest of the UK?