The Queen is Dead

This is going to be more stuff about the death of the Queen, as if you haven’t already had enough to be going on with. I don’t think it’ll be either revelatory or revolutionary but the story dominated the UK recently or perhaps it was just the media that went overboard, even before her death was announced. I got fair caught up in the BBC’s coverage of events, having thought on the day of the death that they couldn’t possibly keep it up for 10 days but oh yes, they did. We heard about little else but her seventy years of service and duty and how the whole nation was united in grief and mourning.

There was much emphasis on the Queen’s “love” for Scotland from commentators and ‘experts’ and how this was now being reciprocated. I wasn’t sure if they were trying to convince their audience or each other. Clearly many folk were genuinely grieving and there was much talk of wanting to “pay respects”.

An early media line was that she deliberately ‘chose’ to die at Balmoral. Well, how would we know? She was normally there in August and September but it would be good on a personal level to die at your favourite place. It was obvious for some time she was unwell as she’d rapidly lost a lot of weight but only the “odious” Nicholas Witchell speculated about her having cancer and he got pelters for it. Historian Robert Lacey decided she’d done it to support the Union and this was punted on the day her coffin was moved to Edinburgh. Viewers were given no understanding of the Union of the Crowns happening 104 years before the Union of the Parliaments and therefore many supporters of Scottish independence were ok with King Charles as head of state in Scotland. Huw Edwards also had to be instructed by a historian that the Queen was a descendent of Kings and Queens of Scots.

Where was the famed BBC balance, either on that day or subsequently? Professor Sir Tom Devine was on for a bit speaking sense but he soon disappeared to be replaced by Robert Lacey. Matt Frei of Channel 4 News was standing outside Holyrood Palace speculating wildly: her “passing” (ie her death) in Scotland was “the most important message she could have sent to the Union”. Luckily Angus Robertson was there to explain the difference between the two unions.

That confusion was not just on tv commentary. Jill Stephenson, a very regular Unionist letter-writer to newspapers, was displaying it too when she crowed over Nicola Sturgeon signing an oath to King Charles to “uphold the acts passed in the parliament of both kingdoms for union of the two kingdoms” ie the 1603 Union of the Crowns.

Michael Keating of University of Aberdeen was pointing out the difference between a monarchical union and a political one on Newsnight on 12 September. Also interviewed was Lord George Robertson who said that Charles was in favour of the Union and that he was neutral about the Union! This same Lord Robertson was telling us, straight-faced, that her visit to Dunblane after the school massacre “had a healing effect”. (Did I imagine it or has somebody actually suggested that she could become a saint?)

Flowers soon started appearing at the gates of Balmoral and I wonder why people lay them for somebody they never knew; or do they believe that they did know her? Is this a social media thing with photos being taken of the act? Or has it now become, since the death of Diana, a tradition? I was pleased to hear that Aberdeenshire Council had asked for plastic wrappings to be removed from flowers so they could be easily composted and later on, they’d requested that no flowers be thrown at the hearse. Prince Andrew was prominent in the family group viewing the flowers, trying to ingratiate himself with his prayer-hands gesture and shows of comfort for his daughters. Clearly upset at the death of their grandmother, I wondered if they had chosen to put themselves on public display.

Not long into the BBC coverage on the Sunday, I was shocked at their not knowing what flag was on the coffin or where the cortege was; Martin Geissler was seriously unprepared and so at fault for both of these. They were going on and on about the crowds: how surprising it was that so many people were standing along the roads. The Scots were unionists after all! There were few Union Jacks along the route though and not many in Edinburgh itself compared with the later forest of them in London. Had local people in rural areas come out just to gawp? There would have been a mix of reasons no doubt with “paying respects” high on the list.

It would have been mainly Edinburgh folk lined up on the outskirts I’m sure but how many tourists were among the city-centre crowds? A couple of women in their 50s from Derbyshire were interviewed by a journalist: they’d left home at 10 on the Saturday night and driven to Ballater, arriving at 5am in good time for the Queen’s coffin passing through the town; then they drove to Edinburgh and started queuing there at 7.30 on Monday morning, staying in their spot for 11 hours before heading home. They also intended to go to London for the funeral there the following Monday. Others were reported to have come to Edinburgh from England in order to avoid the queues at the lying-in-state in London.

Not everyone in Edinburgh was starry-eyed: “like a scene out of a Disney movie, a fairy tale” and “out of touch, out of time. It certainly isn’t modern Scotland or modern Europe”.

There were some almost mystifying reasons for being present: “involved in a little bit of history” …… “We are really big royalists” …… “I will remember it until my dying day” …… “We feel so privileged to be allowed to see it and do what we did” ….. “The world will never be the same”. Reading and hearing these, I felt a bit like the Sundance Kid watching the trackers: “Who are these people?”

At the Edinburgh funeral (Was it a funeral?) Nicola Sturgeon read from Ecclesiastes but alas not from the far more poetic Authorised Version. Wonder what would have happened if she’d slipped in an extra line: “a time for subservience and a time for independence”? Karen Matheson singing a psalm in Gaelic accompanied by a harpist was a highlight for this lapsed Presbyterian, though the FPs would not approve of the harp music as not being divinely inspired.

In retrospect, the events in Edinburgh were plain and restrained compared with what came later in London. The comments also cranked up a gear: “Timeless ….. pageantry ….. something has touched them …. not all monarchists ….. symbol of continuity”. A woman living in Switzerland told a journalist: “Just feel I have to go to London and get in amongst it … being in the experience with other human beings. I can’t explain it: it’s a gut, powerful, intuitive experience”. Another standing outside Buckingham Palace said: “I just felt I had to come. I don’t know why”. There were reports of rainbows appearing in the sky and almost unbelievably, photos in the Daily Mail etc of clouds considered to be shaped like the Queen. What were these journalists thinking writing such stories or the editors who sent them out?

The ceremonies, the traditions, the pageantry involved standing and waiting for hours at a time and it was no wonder that some of the guards and soldiers ended up keeling over. I spotted Nicola Sturgeon and Douglas Ross in Westminster Hall, solemnly waiting for the coffin to arrive for the lying-in-state. This was the site of William Wallace’s trial for treason and I wonder how Douglas Ross would have reacted if the First Minister had suddenly bellowed “FREEDOM”. Very briefly, a tv camera caught Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole Hamilton smirking in the back row.

While nothing much else was happening, the media focus turned to The Queue. Professor Stephen Reicher of St Andrews University had an excellent analysis in The Guardian on the Thursday This was the first I’d heard of “eventism” but it explained a lot: “eventies” and “scenesters” were out in force amongst those with genuine feelings of sadness.

When it came to the televised funeral, my motivation was gawping. Who would be there and what would folk be wearing? Would Liz Truss finally have the hat / hair situation sorted out? Were folk allowed to get up and go to a toilet in the hours of waiting? How on earth were all the arrivals co-ordinated? I was pleased to see that the Bidens, after the insistence on their travelling by car, had to wait at the door as they’d arrived late but I noted that they were not attacked for holding hands. Were Sarah Brown’s heels too high and what was Cherie Blair whispering to Gordon?

Outside, the pipe band struck up Chi mi na mor bheanna, known in English as The mist-covered mountains of home. The song was written by Iain Cameron of Glencoe about 1856 and although Anne Lorne Gillies says it “belongs to a small but happy genre which we might call ‘going home’ songs”, the tune was played at the funerals of John F Kennedy and of Joe Strummer. At the end of the Queen’s service, a lone piper played Sleep, Dearie, Sleep but I felt it lacked gravitas. Why not something like MacCrimmon’s Lament? Or The Lament for the Children whose 16 minutes would have sorted out the men from the boys?

When first I saw the flowers on the coffin, I had a small moment of shock: they were non-traditional. I then had my nose against the screen trying to identify them and when I realised they were garden flowers, I knew that Charles had had a hand in them. I thought the colours and the freeform shape were just lovely and I hope this further encourages the recent trend for sustainable flowers to mark the events of life. (See also I would have given you flowers)

The ecclesiastical processions, the robes and accoutrements set my Presbyterian teeth on edge and so did the reading out of every word from a pre-printed script. Some of it was just nonsensical: “her long life has reached its final day” when she’d been dead for ten days. Then a BBC commentator remarked as the cortege passed Buckingham Palace: “her last glimpse of that famous balcony”. No, it wasn’t!

The sheer waste involved in the flowers thrown into the road was described as “offering floral tributes”; crowds at Hyde Park Corner were called “20, 30, 40, 50 deep” when quite clearly 20 was about the maximum. The priority for so many of the onlookers was to record the event, not just to experience it. The Queen herself had said that she “used to be greeted by a sea of faces but was now greeted by a sea of phones”; how right she was about that.

Journalist Kevin McKenna called the BBC coverage “lickspittle and asinine”, “maudlin, sentimental infantilism”, “forelock-tugging drivel”. Gaun yersel, Kevin!

I can’t say I cared for many of the Queen’s attitudes – she was “greatly distressed” at the thought of an end to the Union. There was the stage-management of her comment about needing to think very carefully about the future, made outside Balmoral in September 2014 – who exactly was the woman she said it to? Newspapers were tipped off in advance as she did what she saw as her duty to the nation; then David Cameron revealed that she’d “purred down the phone” when he told her the negative result. Was she not listening to the wireless that morning like the rest of us?

She was not in favour of devolution either: in her Silver Jubilee speech in 1977, she said, “I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. There were some suggestions that was written by Buckingham Palace staff and not by then-PM James Callaghan. Neil Ascherson, who knows a thing or two, pointed out in the Sunday National very recently that the coronation oath actually involves a promise to “govern the peoples of the United Kingdom according to their respective laws and customs”.

On 11 November 1988 at a dinner in Westminster, she “expressed her concern at the result” of the by-election the previous day in Glasgow Govan when Jim Sillars won for the SNP. Her “alarm” was reported on 20 November in the Sunday Express, with Neil Kinnock being fingered for the leak. In 2016, the Sun reported that she had told a government minister she was a supporter of the Leave campaign.

But we were continually told she “never put a foot wrong”. How about getting exemptions from Equal Opportunities legislation for Royal Household staff? Or not paying tax until 1992 and ensuring that Charles would pay no inheritance tax on the multi millions he would get from her after her death? Or getting her land in Scotland exempted from the Heat Networks Bill whereby pipelines for heating had to use renewable energy rather than fossil fuels? In all, she got “advanced access” to 67 Holyrood bills so that her lawyers could lobby for changes to any legislation affecting her powers or property or personal interests. (I shall not bring up her Nazi salute at Balmoral in 1933 as she was a young girl in that photo and under her mother’s influence – but you can see it online in a Daily Mirror article of 18 July 2015).

She was reported as having given her support for the military attack on the Suez Canal in 1956. How many Egyptians died as a result? What did she have to say about the bloody events in Kenya or Cyprus or Malaya or Aden as these countries sought their independence? She turned a blind eye to Operation Legacy in the 1950s, 60s, 70s in which governments and MI5 “hid, burnt or dumped” files from ex-colonies. For more information on this, look up Pallavi Pundir’s article on on 9 September.

And Sean Clerkin (of all people) in a letter to The National on 12 September said she “never got involved in the world of politics”!!!

Jason Burke reported in The Observer on 11 September that her 1961 dance with Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana was “credited with stalling both Nkrumah’s tilt towards the USSR and his country’s departure from the Commonwealth”. He also reminds us that she would not become Head of State in Rhodesia after its UDI and that she was not pleased with Mrs Thatcher’s refusal to impose sanctions on South Africa in the 1980s. I’ve read elsewhere about her sympathy for the miners’ wives during the strike and her distress at the ‘Battle of Orgreave’ as she watched it on television with the rest of us.

I remember defending her in the days after Diana died when she was being pilloried for not making a display of emotion, for keeping quiet when all around had lost their reason. The words “You leave the Queen alone” came out of my mouth three times that week. I remember speaking to a local shopkeeper as he was pulling down his shutters to close up for the funeral not because he wanted to, but for fear of what might happen if he didn’t.

Poor Charles though. I feel sorry for him after his loveless childhood and his long, long wait for the throne, his fat fingers and his feuding sons. His mother could have abdicated 10 or more years ago to give him some kind of chance to be a king – and that’s a republican talking. He was ahead of the game on organic farming and other environmental issues; he loves his garden; he’s done a good job with his Prince’s Trust and with his rescue of Dumfries House. I hope he’s happy in his marriage with Camilla and that she’s ever ready with the gin bottle for him.

He does not have sorrows to seek with regard to his accession. The issue of the Koh-i-Noor diamond, currently in the Queen Mother’s crown, has re-surfaced; it’s now worth more than £300 million and is claimed by India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. Was it a gift to Queen Victoria or was it looted by the East India Company? The historian William Dalrymple is on the case: Maharaja Duleep Singh surrendered it under the Treaty of Lahore at the end of the Anglo-Sikh wars in Panjab in 1849 – he was 10 years old at the time and was forced into waiving his rights to the diamond.

In 1905, the diamond known as the Great Star of Africa was mined in South Africa; the original diamond was reputed to be the same size as a human heart and was cut into 9 stones. The largest one – Cullinan 1 – was given to Edward VII in 1907 and mounted on top of the Sceptre in 1910. Some South African politicians have described it as “stolen” and they want it back. The Second Star, also known as Cullinan 11, is in the Imperial State Crown. For more information, have a read of “Why is the world fighting over Queen Elizabeth’s royal jewels?” by Atalia Nyx Chua on

As well as inheriting the stooshies about the diamonds, he’s got the First Nations Leadership Council in Canada, where he’s now Head of State, calling on him to renounce the Doctrine of Discovery. It was made up in 1452 in order to justify stealing land from the indigenous peoples of North America and was used by both Britain and France to justify their actions there. He’s also being called on to apologise for what the Anglican churches did while running schools in Canada for First Nations children; the Pope recently apologised for the actions of the Catholic Church there. (See also A mixter-maxter)

Closer to home, he’s got a head of steam building up in Wales after his gifting of the title Prince of Wales to Prince William. More power to Michael Sheen’s elbow is what I say. Interestingly, Sky News is reporting today that there are no plans for an investiture ceremony to take place. Maybe he could drag his feet on a coronation too.

Demands for reparations from ex-colonies will continue and more Commonwealth countries will likely become republics so he and Camilla will be sitting through quite a few flag-lowering ceremonies. Wonder if there’ll be one in Edinburgh too.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll be thinking that I’ve got a bit of a nerve to criticise the BBC for going on a bit. And you’d be right.


One thought on “The Queen is Dead

  1. Pingback: Cauld kail het up – Splendid, Bella!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s