Today’s (26th June) edition of The Independent, in its coverage of yesterday’s Edinburgh launch of the Yes UK campaign, has a list of the contrasting positions of the Yes Scotland and Yes UK campaigns on five topics. They are: Defence; Currency; Europe; Queen; and Diplomacy.
The surprise comes under the Indie’s account of the two positions on ‘Queen’.
A continuing UK would obviously simply carry on as before in terms of the roles and functions of the British monarchy in Scotland.
The position of an independent Scotland, however, is given as: ‘Keep the monarchy but establish a Scottish consulate in London and a Governor General in Scotland’.
We have not previously heard of this one and therefore have no idea where the Indie got it – but this is a seriously informed paper so one has to assume it is factually correct.
This is interesting in a variety of ways.
It suggests Commonwealth membership, which, even if undiscussed is largely uncontroversial.
But the concept, the role and the ring of ‘Governor General’ is enduringly colonial even if legislative changes in the serially independent former British dominions have limited the authority of the post.
A Governor General has vice-regal status and is an appointment of the British monarch under advice from the government of the country in question.
While the post is largely ceremonial, the Governor General may exercise the reserve powers of the monarch according to their own constitutional authority.
Normally, the Governor General acts in accordance with constitutional convention and on the advice of the national Prime Minister. However, this is tradition rather than law.
There have been some spectacular departures from this convention, as in in 1975, when, in the midst of an internal political crisis, the Governor General of Australia, Sir John Kerr, sacked the Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam and replaced him with Malcolm Fraser, leader of the opposition.
In principle, the Crown could overrule a Governor General but this has not happened in modern times and it did not happen in the Australian political and constitutional crisis of 1975.
The Speaker of the Australia Parliament then formally requested the Queen to reinstate Gough Whitlam as Prime Minister. The reply from the Queen’s Private Secretary, declined to intervene, noting that: ‘the Australian Constitution firmly places the prerogative powers of the Crown in the hands of the Governor-General as the representative of the Queen of Australia’.
Were Scotland to become independent and were it to choose to have a Governor General – whose necessity we would question – we suggest that the drawing up of the constitution for an independent Scotland pays close protective attention to the events of 1975 in Australia.
There is something about the voluntary adoption of a Governor General – if the Independent is correct that this is what is planned - which is a million miles away from the spiritual, philosophical and political notion of independence the average punter is being asked to buy in to.
How it will play with the electorate of both camps remains to be seen.
It may not materially affect the core nationalist vote which appears to be willing to take independence at any price.
It may though affect the floating voter in adding to the weight of what is perceived as expensive and unnecessary change which would follow independence.