Saturday, 2 June 2012

The monarchy

This weekend sees the official Diamond Jubilee celebrations, commemorating 60 years since Princess Elizabeth became “Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith”.

You might not have been aware of the celebrations, given how low-key they are and how little they have been reported by the media. Then again, you might be holding a street party to give special thanks for Her Majesty’s unstinting and selfless devotion to us mere mortals.

I tried. Honestly, I tried to write an impartial sentence that simply reported the facts, but I am a republican and I’m afraid impartiality gave way to an expression of my republican views, hence the sarcastic tone evident in the previous paragraph.

To be fair, though, this is an ‘Opinion’ column and therefore the expression of an opinion is exactly what is required. Some people will agree with the opinion, others will not. Opinion columns should take a particular view and should generate differing reactions, so here goes:

I despise the elitist idea of monarchy. I believe there can be no place in a democratic society for an unelected, hereditary head of state who owes their position of privilege to nothing more than the fact their ancestors were the biggest murdering rogues of their time.

I cannot begin to imagine why one human being would obsequiously bow or curtsy to another, nor why someone would expect others to kowtow to them in such a manner.

In a country where people’s lives are being devastated by unemployment, poverty and deprivation, I believe it is an obscenity that one family, whose members are already multi-millionaires, continues to live extremely cosseted lives funded from the public purse.

So, there you have it: just a small sample of my anti-monarchy, republican beliefs. You might agree with them, you might disagree. The point is, though, I make no pretence of impartiality. I am a republican and the views I express in this column will attempt to articulate a republican position.

However, the BBC is a publicly-funded broadcaster, which has the following clause within its Charter:

“Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC's commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services - television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.”

On the BBC recently, have you noticed a range of views being appropriately reflected in relation to the monarchy? How about even one view expressing anything other than whole-hearted support for the Queen and her family? Any balance, at all?

Even on news bulletins, where we are supposed to be presented with facts rather than opinions, virtually all BBC, ITN and Sky reports have promoted the Diamond Jubilee as something to celebrate, while support for the Queen and her family is taken as a foregone conclusion.

Broadcasters in the UK are obliged to report facts: they are supposed to be impartial and should not take sides in particular arguments. That is not to say they must give equal airtime to different views, but they should not promote one side over another. Newspapers – hard-copy or online - are different, they can be partisan, supporting a particular cause or political party, but television and radio stations are supposed to avoid such bias.

Incidentally, did you know the BBC has played an active part in co-organising a celebratory Diamond Jubilee concert? How is that for “considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected”? Can we expect similar backing in the future from the BBC for a pro-republic rally or even a concert in support of Scottish independence? Don’t hold your breath.

To be honest, I feel no personal ill-will to Mrs Windsor and her family: I don’t know them, so it would be irrational to have any personal animosity towards them, which reminds me of a statement made by then Scottish Socialist Party MSP Carolyn Leckie while being sworn-in as a Member of the Scottish Parliament: Carolyn said, “Why would I swear allegiance to the Queen? I mean, I don’t even know the wummin.”

The Parliament’s swearing-in of MSPs is a classic example of how all-pervading is the influence of the British establishment, and how the monarchy is not the benign entity we’re told it is. Despite being elected to parliament by the people of Scotland, MSPs are required to swear an oath of allegiance to ‘Her Majesty the Queen, her heirs and successors’. Any MSP who holds republican views and declines to swear the oath of allegiance to an unelected monarch is barred from taking their seat in parliament.

In 2003, like other republican MSPs, I prefaced my oath-taking by stating my allegiance was to the people of Scotland, and therefore I took the oath under protest. I basically let them know I didn’t mean a word of the oath I subsequently took.

Think about that: in a supposed democracy, where candidates have been elected by the people, those candidates would be barred from office if they did not swear allegiance to a London-based monarch who considers the people of Scotland to be her subjects. There is no debating the point: no oath of allegiance to the Queen (and her hangers-on), no seat in the Scottish Parliament.

The monarchy and forcing people to swear allegiance to something in which they do not believe, are anachronisms: there is no place for such things in a modern, democratic country.

Having said that, we should be under no illusions about who actually runs Scotland. It isn’t the Westminster Government and it certainly isn’t the Scottish version. Scotland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are run and controlled by the British establishment, a small elite group of faceless bureaucrats, civil servants, senior military personnel and members of the royal household.

The Queen is the pinnacle of the British establishment, and the BBC is its mouthpiece. They are two strands of the same organisation, which is why the loyal BBC tells us we all love Her Majesty. We can’t have the people thinking dangerous thoughts about creating a democratic republic, now can we?

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