The Daily Telegraph
The Queen’s love of Scotland was repaid
It was the saddest journey. As the hearse carrying the body of the late Queen, draped in the Royal Standard of Scotland, emerged from the gates of Balmoral, the reality of the nation’s loss became apparent.
Thousands lined the 175-mile route through glorious Deeside countryside to Aberdeen, on to Dundee, skirting Perth and then through Fife to Edinburgh, where the coffin remained overnight in the Throne Room of the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Today, it will be taken up the Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral, where she will lie in state for 24 hours, before being flown to London.
It is appropriate that Her Majesty’s final days were spent in the Balmoral home she loved and in a country where she spent so much of her time. The huge crowds along the route, and in Edinburgh itself, attested to the affection in which she was held in Scotland despite the pressures for independence and the rise of Scottish nationalism, a vanishingly small political phenomenon at the outset of her reign 70 years ago.
The ceremonials accompanying the death of the monarch and the proclamation of the new King have involved Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and other senior members of the Scottish government and establishment.
Outside St Giles’ Cathedral yesterday, Charles was proclaimed monarch from the Mercat Cross by Lord Lyon King of Arms in a ceremony replete with tradition and heraldic pomp. The clergy and judges of Scotland were resplendent in their formal wear, as were the Royal Company of Archers, the sovereign’s personal bodyguard, in their green livery, bows and arrows at the ready. The national anthem was sung with gusto. A few boos could be heard from separatists objecting to the proclamation, but they were in a small minority.
Similar events took place across the United Kingdom, in Wales at Cardiff Castle and Hillsborough in Northern Ireland.
Mindful of her popularity, the SNP has long maintained that it would retain the monarch after independence – the Queen would have been Elizabeth I of Scotland had the referendum in 2014 gone the other way.
For centuries, the monarchy has been the constitutional glue for both Britain and the UK. The English and Scottish parliaments stayed separate for more than 100 years after the merger of the crowns in 1603, despite James VI and I’s best endeavours to unite them.
Queen Victoria was another monarch who loved Scotland, and it was she who purchased Balmoral, where she spent much of her lengthy widowhood. That reinforced the royal connection with Scotland that was very much in evidence yesterday on the Queen’s final journey through her northern realm.
Indeed, because she was in Balmoral for the transition of political power at Westminster just two days before her death, Scotland has been at the centre of national events for much of the past week. Will this make a difference to the political dynamic as the SNP push for another referendum?
Much of the nationalist case rests on a view that Westminster is remote and indifferent to the interests of Scotland, and yet here it is playing a key role at a pivotal moment in this island’s history. The received wisdom is that the Scots are less enamoured of the monarchy than the rest of the UK – with less enthusiasm on display during the Platinum Jubilee festivities – and yet the size of the crowds lining the route of the cortege belies this.
Some may see the turnout more as a sign of personal affection for Queen Elizabeth II and less an indication of widespread Scottish warmth for the institution of monarchy. Yet, in death, she may have helped reinvigorate the Union just as it was beginning to wobble once more.
She has opened the Scottish Parliament in every year since it was recreated in 1998 and treats nationalists no different from any other politicians, thus helping to disarm republican sentiment. It would be fanciful to say it no longer exists; but the reaction in Scotland suggests it is a minority view.
The streets of Edinburgh will be packed again today when the Queen’s coffin is taken from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to St Giles’ for the Service of Thanksgiving for her extraordinary life.
The Union was central to her reign and judging by the response to her passing in all corners of the UK, the idea remains intact among its people. She has left King Charles, who will be in the Scottish capital today, with a precious legacy.