Queen warned over deploying soft power in Scotland amid Sturgeon’s second referendum call

Martin Lewis grills Nicola Sturgeon over independence bid

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Dr Bob Morris, senior honorary research associate at UCL’s Constitution Unit, warned against the use of royal soft power when it comes to the issue of the independence of Scotland, especially in light of the criticism the Queen was subjected to in 2014. Asked whether the sovereign could do anything to protect the Union while maintaining her political neutrality, Dr Morris told Express.co.uk: “‘Soft power’ can be much exaggerated and the Queen herself has made it quite clear that whether Scotland should leave the UK and become independent is entirely a matter for the people of Scotland themselves to decide.”

In mid-September 2014, days before the first Scottish independence vote, the Queen made a rare comment to a well-wisher outside Crathie Kirk near her Balmoral estate.

When the royal fan joked they were not going to mention the referendum, the Queen said: “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future.”

This remark was seen by pro-independence campaigners as a politically charged comment from the normally impartial sovereign.

However, royal officials insisted the Queen did not breach her constitutional impartiality.

Referring to the comment made by the monarch in 2014, Dr Morris continued: “There is in fact no way – soft power or otherwise – that the Queen could seek to be interpreted as showing a preference one way or the other.

“She was criticised at the time of the last independence referendum for using the anodyne expression (when asked) that she hoped that the voters would think very carefully about the proposal.

“It follows that, if she was thought to have a view, it would be used to justify independence because such a view represented exactly the kind of unionist hegemony that it was aimed to bring to an end.

“Are there silent strategies that could be considered? Scotland is already alone of the non-English territories in which she has a home and which she regularly visits in addition to the capital city. 

“Increasing that effort could be too easily portrayed as an attempt to curry Scottish favour.”

Dr Morris added it is not clear how the Queen would remain a head of state in Scotland if First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and other supporters of the independence broke up the Union.

He said: “The courses available to the Queen have to be seen also against what the SNP is proposing.

“At the time of the last referendum, the SNP said an independent Scotland would keep the monarchy.

“But it has never been made clear what would be the constitutional position of a Crown in Scotland and whether the Crown’s position would be represented by a Governor-General as in the other 15 non-UK monarchies where the Queen is head of state.”

He concluded: “When so much is uncertain perhaps the best ‘soft power’ available to the Queen is to remain steadfastly impartial and to continue as the conscientious constitutional monarch she has always been and continues to be.”

Earlier this week, Ms Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government’s intention to hold a second referendum on the nation’s independence before the end of 2023, “Covid permitting”.

In a statement to Holyrood, she said: “Our democratic mandate to allow people, not politicians, to decide the country’s future is beyond question.”

But a recent poll appeared to show the majority of Scottish people aged over 16 are against rushing towards the vote.

Research for the pro-UK campaign group Scotland in Union found 52 percent of the polled said not to back a second referendum in the nation within the next two years.

The study also highlighted 38 percent of the surveyed backed a second poll in the next 24 months, while 10 percent answered they did not know.

The poll was conducted by Survation between August 31 and September 1 on 1,040 Scottish people aged over 16.

During this weekend’s virtual SNP conference, party members are discussing Scotland’s future – and independence is one of the three major discussion points on the agenda.

The conference is taking place while the Queen remains at Balmoral Castle, where she is spending her summer break.

The sovereign, who last met for an audience with Ms Sturgeon in late June, is expected to remain in Scotland until early October, when she will take part in the opening ceremony of the Scottish Parliament.

The event, which will also be attended by Prince Charles and Camilla, will focus on honouring local heroes who went to outstanding lengths to help others during the pandemic.

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