Queen Elizabeth II has been likened to the invisible glue that held Britain together. Some believe that the reign of Charles III would have loosened those ties, giving further impetus to Scotland’s pursuit of independence.
But the fact that the Queen passed away last week at Balmoral Castle in her beloved Scottish Highlands has thrown Scotland into the limelight amid commemorations celebrated around the world in the first days after the death. This has served as a reminder of the Queen’s deep ties with Scotland and may have been an impetus to the union.
Scottish historian Tom Devine said that the Queen died in Scotland by “extraordinary peace” and that “it was possible for the world to appreciate the relationship between the Queen and this country”.
“It was a fitting end to a life of service and a life of care for not just one nation of Britain, but four nations,” he said.
In a moving display of respect, thousands of people lined the 280-kilometre (175-mile) route from Balmoral to the Scottish capital Edinburgh, as the Queen’s coffin moved forward in a slow procession. On Monday, the Queen’s remains were carried in a funeral procession from Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral, where thousands more came to bid her farewell on Monday.
The Queen had close ties with Scotland. As well as spending her summers at Balmoral, her mother, the late Queen Mother, was Scottish, and as a child, Elizabeth grew up playing at her grandparents’ residence, Glamis Castle, central Scotland.
So far there have only been small protests by anti-monarchy protesters. A woman was arrested in Edinburgh on Sunday for disturbing public order after displaying a derogatory sign calling for the monarchy to be acquitted.
King Charles III insisted that he would be a monarch for the whole of the United Kingdom, and that he would tour the entire country during his first days on the throne. He was in Scotland on Monday for his mother’s funeral procession and memorial service, after which he plans to travel to Northern Ireland and Wales over the weekend, where he will attend other memorial services in Belfast and Cardiff.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are part of the United Kingdom, but have different histories and complex relations with England, which dominates the United Kingdom in both population and politics.
Some Welsh nationalists objected that the title Prince of Wales had recently been conferred on Prince William, the first title given to the British throne after the English conquest of Wales in the 14th century.
The state of the monarchy has always been fragile in Northern Ireland, where there are two main communities: the Unionists, who see themselves as British, and the Nationalists, who see themselves as Irish. This separation fueled decades of violence in the Northern Ireland conflict, known in English as The Troubles, and remains a great divide. But in a sign of how far Northern Ireland has come on the road to peace, representatives of the IRA-affiliated Sinn Féin party will attend the Queen’s memorial events in Belfast.
Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O’Neill praised the “various traditions on our island during the years of the peace process and the significant contribution made by Queen Elizabeth to the progress of peace and reconciliation between Ireland and Great Britain”.
Scotland and England have been ruled by a single monarch since 1603, and were formally unified in 1707. Scotland has separate educational and legal systems, with its own parliament since 1999.
Relations between Britain’s conservative government in London and Scotland’s pro-independence administration in Edinburgh are strained.
Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who stepped down last week, was unpopular in Scotland, where most opposed his major Brexit project. Johnson led Britain’s exit from the European Union following a 2016 referendum in which the entire country supported leaving, although Scotland voted to remain in the bloc.
Devine said the Johnson government had shown “a lack of respect for Scotland as a historic nation”.
“That abusive attitude has greatly ranked Scottish voters in recent years,” he said. “But there is still a strong feeling that the monarchy, especially in the person of the Queen, retains that honor.”
In 2014, Scotland held a referendum to remain part of the United Kingdom. Voters rejected independence from 55% to 45%, which was billed as a generation-to-generation decision. The Scottish National Party government in Edinburgh is promoting a new independence referendum, arguing that Brexit has radically changed the political and economic landscape.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has promised to hold that vote in October 2023. But new British minister Liz Truss, like Johnson, says her government will not agree and the referendum will not be binding without her approval.
In the midst of this political impasse, Sturgeon appealed to the court to call its own referendum. The UK High Court will begin hearing the case next month.
As emperor, Carlos must remain politically neutral. His mother caused a stir in 2014 when she said that Scots should “think very carefully” before voting, a statement seen by many in opposition to independence.
But even after that remark, the Queen was widely respected by people on both sides of Scottish independence. Sturgeon on Monday praised Elizabeth as “Queen of Scots” and “the great constant, the anchor of our nation”.
“It remains to be seen whether Charles can command the same loyalty as his mother,” said Pauline McLaren, an expert on royal culture at the Royal Holloway University in London.
“There will be a honeymoon period for Carlos, I think, where everyone, out of respect but also out of their feelings, will overcome their regular demands for independence,” he said.
But expert McLaren said the period would not last.
“I think[the call for Scottish independence]will return. And I think the whole question will be, how much stronger can Carlos strengthen his ties with them? What’s his connection? This is without a doubt in his trials. will be one,” he said.