One peculiar memory I have from childhood is being taken to watch the Queen open the new Thornton’s factory in Somercotes, Derbyshire. I say ‘watching the Queen’ but the process involved merely watching a cavalcade of black limos hurtling past while the assembled schoolchildren waved Union flags. I refused to hold a flag. As someone who was known to enjoy country pursuits I was surprised that the Queen would attend the opening of a factory on the site of a bittern nest. Yes, I must confess that I was a ‘twitcher’. My dad did his best to confront the developers about this (but hey-ho, whisper it, Labour council *cough*. Whispers again: you put the money in the grasping fingers).
Bitterns, it seems, are to remain as rare as dissenting voices in the Jubilee year, even in Scotland. A curious thing last week. A leaflet was dropped through the door listing a program of events for the Children’s Gala in June here in Kinghorn, only it wasn’t a celebration of summer or any of that. No, bedecked in Union flags, the leaflet proclaimed a gala week celebrating the jubilee. Wonderful. Brainwash them while they’re young, they’ll vote unionist for life like their gormless, drooling parents.
Now me, I might have been born working class but I’m not servile. The leaflet was ripped up put in the recycling bin. The next morning, I found another item in the letterbox… a brown envelope. This is for cash donations to the children’s gala and the best bit? The envelope is numbered. That’s right. I’ve got envelope ’51 (spare)’. Either the folks giving out/ collecting the envelopes aren’t trusted or the organisers are keeping dibs on who is giving what.
I love Kinghorn and it would be fair to say that my wife and I fell in love with the place almost as soon as we were off the train, never mind on first seeing the house where we now live. We might have lived here for little over a year but we feel at home and so have tried to live here with a view to taking part. However, though I contributed a donation last year, I will not be giving one this year. A children’s gala should be just that: a street party for kids, by kids, about kids.
Here’s the point though: whenever I question the so-called divine right of kings or whether it is right that an unelected group should be pulling the world’s economies to the precipice using an equally unreformed parliament, I am invariably accused of being an SNP member. There are some insults you can throw at me but that one is simply untrue.
I am not an SNP member primarily because as James writes on the Better Nation blog, ‘Why is Scotland’s constitution off the agenda?‘, the SNP has not only devised a draft constitution but has written the monarchy into it. Excuse me but I beg to f*ckin’ differ and would, given the opportunity, exercise my right to not go down on bended knee to someone whose position in life was secured by the opportunity of birth and not by the exercise of any real, quantifiable talent.
Any discussion of a nation’s future has to be framed around open-ended discussions about what people want because sometimes, you know, ordinary punters get it right. Cameron’s Tories couldn’t even frame a coherent, competent vision for England – let alone Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland – so he didn’t get a majority in a system designed to deliver just such a verdict but instead a coalition. It’s because voters were not persuaded.
The most common objection to scrapping monarchy is the question: ‘You’d want a president? Like Sarkozy?’ No. I don’t.
Being chosen to be Head of State for however short a term (and it should be a short term, no-one should be allowed to get comfortable) should be regarded as a fine honour. Why not then try something new and truly different?
We already seem comfortable with the use of an official office called ‘Makar‘, a poet chosen to create verse for occasions of state. The word ‘makar’ means both maker and poet. In a modern society such as Scotland’s, we also owe a debt to engineers, scientists, teachers and many, many others. As we already have the party started, why not inaugurate the next year’s Makar on Hogmanay? For one year, the chosen Makar will greet foreign VIPs off planes, will open parliamentary sessions and attend all the formal functions at which a monarch or president would normally be the guest? Taxpayers foot the bill for travel expenses and so on but importantly, nothing else. It is absolutely of critical importance that the role of Head of State is seen as one of honour and an experience which, though exhausting, would be cherished. If nothing else, it would reflect our sense of humour and what a change for someone like Barack Obama to be greeted off the plane by someone like actress/ comedienne/ constitutional lobbyist Elaine C. Smith or novelist Alan Bissett (who’d be my choice for the first Makar of Scotland for this alone).