When Scots went to the polls to vote for independence from the United Kingdom in September 2014, the Queen’s role came under scrutiny.
At the time, the leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond, promised that if voters supported the departure from the 300-year-old Union, Elizabeth II would remain “Queen of Scots”.
Opinion polls at the time suggested that Salmond closely gauged the popular vote about the Queen – 52% wanted to keep her. The question was out of the question, however, as Salmond had famously misjudged Scotland’s vote on independence, which was voted down by 55% to 45%.
Of the many lessons learned from IndyRef 2014 in Scotland, one solid conclusion was that the Queen is not directly part of the problem.
In Northern Ireland, however, the opposite was true during much of her reign.
The 30 bloody years of violence known as “The Troubles” pitted British trade unionists against Irish nationalists, with the British crown symbolizing much that divided the province.
Unionists are loyal to the Crown and the traditional British values they believe are enshrined in it. For Irish nationalists, it is the symbol of the British armed forces who subjugated their ancestors and annexed their country.
Charles’ favorite great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British viceroy in India, was murdered by the Irish Republicans along with several of his grandchildren. The message to the monarch was unmistakable: her bloodline was legitimate targets.
Her public response came many years later, during a visit to Northern Ireland in 2012 following the relative peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement, when she shook hands with one of the Republicans most associated with the groups behind the violence of the past, Martin McGuinness.
That government officials recommended taking McGuinness’ hand speaks to her power on all things Union. She is not the Union, but a symbol of it. McGuinness’s Irish nationalist republicans had reluctantly ended their ‘armed struggle’ and will remain within the Union for the time being.
So, to think that Queen Elizabeth is of little relevance to the current Union would be a misinterpretation of her reign.
She was a unifying force, wielding her soft power delicately and discreetly for the sole purpose of holding the Union and the remnants of the Empire, the Commonwealth, together.
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