Platinum Jubilee: Tom Devine on the future of the monarchy in Scotland

On February 6, 1952, while the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth was on a visit to Kenya, she learned of the death of her father. Promptly, she flew home where she was proclaimed Queen. An extraordinary 70 years on, that date will be marked as the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations begin.

To mark this date, we invited historians and commentators to peer into the monarchy’s future in Scotland. Here, historian Tom Devine contemplates the big questions that hover around it.

Professor Emeritus Sir Tom Devine, University of Edinburgh, historian, as told in interview with Vicky Allan

“There are many Scottish blood connections between the current British monarchy and Scotland. If you look, for example, at the Queen’s mother and father, both could trace their lineage right back to Robert II of Scotland in the Medieval period. Her father is a direct descendant of James VI of Scotland and her mother was a Scottish aristocrat.

There’s also the famous statement she made in the Scottish parliament of her enduring affection and that of her late husband for Scotland. That’s not a myth. In other words, in relation to Scotland there are positives, but there are also threats and negatives and difficulties for the monarchy going on into the future.

Amongst the positives for their future in Scotland is that Scots are aware that there is no evidence whatsoever of the royal family marginalising Scotland of the sort we do see from the current prime minister and his government. Their behaviour to some extent has highlighted the interest and concern and affection that the royal family have for Scotland.

HeraldScotland: File photo dated 02/06/53 after the coronation in Westminster Abbey, London showing Queen Elizabeth II wearing the St. Edward Crown and carrying the Sceptre and the Rod. Issue date: Sunday January 30, 2022.  PA Photo. This is one of seventy photos

The Queen’s position is armour-plated, and perhaps particularly so because she is a hereditary monarch. People look around at governments around the world, elected governments and elected presidents, such as Trump and Putin, and they think well maybe a blood inheritance, though it seems odd in the modern world, might have something for it. The constitutional monarch cannot have any particular political axe to grind, must stay above the fray, and, of course, everyone has been so impressed by the way the current Queen has comported herself throughout her long reign. There has hardly been one occasion when she has not behaved impeccably.

Compare the current prime minister and the current head of state – you couldn’t think of two different people in terms of what I might call the decency league.

Regarding the future of the Royal family, much of this is a personal view because this is always the case when we try to speculate on the future and the future, as I’ve often said, is not my period.

It’s going to be difficult for Charles who is due to succeed her. There’s a lot of regard for the monarchy but much of it is founded in the persona of the Queen. How well will Charles perform the role? I’m certain he will try to do his best and again keep above politics, but he has form as an individual, for example the Diana situation, which is still remembered.

HeraldScotland: File photo dated 01/09/72 of the Duke of Edinburgh and Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral celebrating their Silver Wedding anniversary. The Duke of Edinburgh has died, Buckingham Palace has announced. Issue date: Friday April 9, 2020.. See PA story DEATH


Also, if you look at opinion polling over the last 10-15 years, two thirds of English and Welsh people support the monarchy. In Scotland it’s down to just over 50 percent [YouGov, March 2021]. That’s not necessarily a decline. There’s always been less support for the monarchy in these polls in Scotland.

The other thing, in terms of polling evidence, is that when you look at the age group 18-24, the age group overwhelming supportive in Scotland of Scottish independence, there is a clear majority among them who want an elected head of state.

I don’t think the Andrew situation helps. But let’s remember, no judicial process has yet considered his case, far less found him guilty. That said, the British people may already consider that the press have already found him guilty and that’s not going to help the monarchy. But I don’t think what’s happening with Andrew is a death blow.

Clearly when the Queen dies there will be considerable closing of ranks around the monarchy in the UK and it will be up to the heir to the throne to demonstrate very quickly that he is a man up to the job as it were.

The SNP still supports the idea of the House of Windsor as providing the headship of state. Remember the Union of the Crowns of 1603 will not be affected in any way by the breaking of the treaty of 1707, the parliamentary union.

READ MORE: Who should succeed the Queen? William or Charles

What the monarchy has going for them are two things. First of all, supposing there was an independent Scotland, or a campaign for it, I don’t believe that the SNP will want to create too much discontinuity in the search for an overall majority, and one way of preserving continuity is the maintenance of the monarchy. I think that’s one of the main reasons why although there may be strong republican feelings in parts of the SNP, one of the things the party will try to do is maintain as much continuity before and after independence in the medium term.

HeraldScotland: Queen Elizabeth II meets First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon (right), as she attends the opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Saturday July 2, 2016. See PA story ROYAL Holyr

Another important factor is that for the last 30-40 years, the world has been changing faster than probably at any point since the industrial revolution, probably faster, and it is accelerating. It’s not simply economic change; it is demographic (especially levels of international migration) change, cultural change, political change. In convulsive times like these, people tend look to the past for emotional stability. The Royal family, particularly the Queen as the figurehead, and its rituals and ceremonials offers a nostalgic link to history.”


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