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Let's all panda to the idea of monarchy

IT'S been a sparkling week for the monarchy, all in.

The boldest headlines concerned Kate, Duchess of Somewhere, vs author Hilary Mantel, in a manufactured catfight to beat all manufactured catfights. Next, we had young Harry Wales dandying a rich socialite on his knee, indiscreetly though with his clothes on, for a change, and mercifully swastika-free.

Then, bringing up the rear, the bold Prince Philip, king of clangers, making mischievous small talk with a Filipino nurse during a visit to Luton and Dunstable hospital. The old wag.

I took Philip's comments to be vaguely complimentary: "[The Philippines] must be half-empty – you're all here running the NHS," he joshed, surely making a political point that the NHS is in need of foreign aid to prop it up, what with the privatisation and the budget cuts. Surely? And asking when would the hospital build him a helipad so he could stop travelling by car – hilarious.

Harry's inappropriate friskiness in Verbiers was really the least of the worries. Let's face it, with Phillip and Harry it's only a matter of time before something gangs agley.

The big bother was the wilful misreading of Mantel's London Review of Books speech in which she eruditely made the point that, like consorts before her, Kate's role – as depicted by the media and as seen by the Royal Family – is to be silent, beautiful and to breed. Mantel came off worse in the fray, accused variously of being fat, jealously barren and bitter. But she's just an author; Kate's a duchess. It was never a level field on which to play.

While the Saxe-Coburg-Gothas have their fun, Scotland is busily ironing out the creases on the cloth of independence and one such rumple is whether to keep the Queen as head of state. Well, let us turn back to Mantel, who hints towards a solution that, while left-field, may offer a suitable compromise.

"I used to think that the interesting issue," she wrote, "was whether we should have a monarchy or not. But now I think that question is rather like, should we have pandas or not? Our current royal family doesn't have the difficulties in breeding that pandas do, but pandas and royal persons alike are expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment. But aren't they interesting? Aren't they nice to look at? Some people find them endearing; some pity them for their precarious situation; everybody stares at them."

Should Scotland become independent we could leave the Windsors behind and crown pandas instead. We already have two installed in the capital, the monochrome King and Queen, Tian Tian and Yang Guang.

Perhaps Alex Salmond had this in mind when he opened panda diplomacy channels with China, which, we learned yesterday, is mulling over whether or not to back the independence debate as a two-finger gesture at Westminster, relations there having cooled.

Like Queen Elizabeth, who fares the best of all royals in public opinion, they will be ever silent. With Panda Cam those who wish to may view them 24 hours a day. Their fur ensures no need for expensive ermines and their regal bearing (sorry) makes them elegantly suited to the task. We can even predict their efforts to breed. This is so simple a solution it's black and white.

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