Following the Queen’s passing and the King’s ascension, discussions about the future of the monarchy are taking place across the Commonwealth realms.
There are currently 15 countries where King Charles III has become head of state by virtue of his birth. It’s almost certain several of these countries will become republics in the coming years and decades. The question is when. Australia’s relatively new government has a Minister for the Republic (although any moves away from the monarchy are unlikely to take place in this current parliament) while polling in Jamaica suggests strong support for a republic.
In the UK, the Queen was undeniably a popular figure. What remains to be seen is how much support for the monarchy in the UK is dependent on support for the Queen as an individual and her role as figurehead, rather than the institution of the Crown itself. That will become apparent in the coming years.
Polling can give an indication of the level of support for the monarchy and a possible republic.
The most recent major poll on the issue, by think-tank British Future, suggests that 58% of Brits think the UK should keep the monarchy for the foreseeable future. In contrast, 25% of those polled said they think the UK should become a republic after the Queen’s passing. Note that the poll was conducted in May 2022, four month’s before the monarch’s passing.
A further 6% said neither while 11% said they don’t know.
As for Scotland, support for a republic is stronger than across the UK overall. Less than half of Scots polled (just 45%) said they support the monarch remaining head of state. While over a third (36% support) favour becoming a republic after the Queen’s passing.
Scottish support for the monarchy is significantly weaker than across the rest of the country.
The UK is unlikely to abolish the monarchy any time soon, but there is no place for an hereditary head of state in the 21st century. The Queen was undeniably a giant and a well-respected figure on the world-stage. And while the UK becoming a republic isn’t the most important democratic upgrade we need, we should certainly strive for it.
The UK is a long way from becoming a republic according to current polling. Despite a number of high-profile scandals in recent years, support for the monarchy remains extremely high, largely due to the popular personal appeal of the current monarch herself. But what happens when her son, Prince Charles, takes over is anyone’s guess and will likely spark a key debate about who should represent the country on the world stage.
That all said, Scotland has some of the highest support for abolishing the monarchy across the whole UK. A YouGov poll from spring 2021 put support for the monarchy across the UK at 61% and support for an elected head of state at just 24%. Unlike other polls where sub-samples are often too small to infer conclusions about different demographics, this poll is large enough to do just that. The poll suggests that 49% of voters in Scotland support the monarchy while 33% would support a republic. The full poll can be viewed here.
With this in mind, it’s worth exploring what each of Scotland’s five main political parties make of the monarchy and the prospect of a republic.
The Scottish National Party officially have a position that supports the monarchy. Had Scotland become independent in 2014, the country would have most likely remained in the Commonwealth and retained the monarchy similar to the likes of Australia, Canada and New Zealand. For outside observors this may seem peculiar due to the SNP’s strong stance against British institutions, however, there are a number of factors at play that have let to this position. One is the strategic advantage gained by supporting the monarchy to win over voters unsure about the uncertainties of independence. The more independence looks less of a clean break with the UK, the more likely uncertain voters may take a gamble goes the thinking. Furthermore, the monarchy isn’t just a British institution, the history of the Scottish monarchy as part of the British monarchy should not be overstated.
Former SNP Leader and First Minister Alex Salmond has been incredibly supportive of the Queen and the institution of the monarchy (a view he no longer holds with his Alba party now in favour of a republic) while it has been suggested that current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has a more neutral approach to the institution.
That said, there are a number of significant figures within the party who support abolishing the monarchy such as Christine Grahame MSP and former Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham.
Unsurprisingly, both the Scottish Conservatives and the UK-wide Conservative and Unionist Party are pro-monarchy. Small-c conservative ideology concerns the preservation of old institutions and only making small changes when deemed practical and when necessary to survive. Overall, the party is incredibly supportive of the monarchy although it is worth noting that centre-right republicans do exist. Most notably in Scotland, former Conservative MSP Adam Tomkins held anti-monarchy views (before being elected in 2016).
The official Labour position is pro-monarchy however, unlike the Conservatives there is widespread support within Labour ranks for adopting a republican position. Former UK-leader Jeremy Corbyn has consistently argued for abolition of the monarchy (although he didn’t further that cause while leader) and other leading UK Labour figures such as Clive Lewis support that position.
In Scottish Labour, there are a number of MSPs with republican views such as Mercedes Villalba (North East Scotland) and Katy Clark (West of Scotland). There is no doubt that there are more even though the party officially backs the monarchy.
The Scottish Greens support an independent Scottish republic. This has long been the position of the party.
This makes them the only pro-republic party represented at Holyrood although Alba supports a republic and does have two MPs due to defections in 2021.
The Liberal Democrats currently support retaining the monarchy, however, there is some support for a change in position within the party. Back in 1994, Liz Truss (yes, that Liz Truss, once a Lib Dem activist now Conservative foreign secretary) spoke in favour of a motion at party conference to replace the monarchy with a republican system.
The motion failed and while there is no major appetite for change either in the Scottish or federal parties, there is of course a minority of republic supporting members. In 2013, the Lib Dems for a Republic group was set up but it has seemingly fizzled out.
While the party officially supports the monarchy, an investigation by the Scottish Lib Dems in 2021 held the royals to account by finding that a royal privilege (called the Queen’s Consent) was used by the monarchy to intervene in Scottish Parliament legislation.