AFTER a slow start, Scotland is getting in the mood to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
There may be less red white and blue bunting than in other parts of her kingdom and fewer street parties than for her Silver Jubilee but that is no reflection of a lack of respect for either the British monarchy or its present incumbent.
In 21st century Scotland, the Union flag has acquired a political significance that robs it of its traditional power as a unifying symbol. That was less of an issue in 1977, let alone 1953, when Queen Elizabeth II's coronation was seen as an occasion for shows of robust Unionism. In a grey country, still suffering the after-effects of the Second World War, it was a chance to embrace colour and have some fun.
Now the same flag is a reminder of the Union many Scots question or reject. And yet, the lack of bunting does not reflect any lack of affection for the Queen herself. On the contrary, as Alex Salmond clearly recognises, independence with a republican tinge would be a huge vote loser for his cause. So an independent Scotland would retain the monarchy because, as he put it recently: "Her Majesty's affection for this country is reciprocated by Scots of all generations."
For her part, there is not a glimmer of umbrage at stirrings of Scottish independence. Indeed, Scotland holds a special place in her heart. The importance of Balmoral as a place of refuge and refreshment cannot be overstated. It is there that she can relax with her family for six weeks each year and live something akin to the simple life of a country woman, with her horses and dogs that she might have chosen for herself, had the responsibility of the monarchy not been placed on her young shoulders six decades ago.
It was also the setting for the nadir of her reign in 1997, when sheremained in residence there, misreading the national mood, following the death of Princess Diana. But if the prospects for the British monarchy looked shaky then, the Queen has since demonstrated an uncanny ability to balance continuity and change. She was never going to turn into a celebrity figure, sharing her thoughts with interviewers, or a populist monarch like some of her European counterparts. Hence she remains the object of constant fascination.
Yet the institution of monarchy has changed radically. Today a commoner can marry into it. For some this gives a false impression of social mobility. Yet most have no difficulty reconciling concern about the deep divisions and inequalities in British society with the sense of belonging that Royal occasions can foster. Even in these straitened times, republicanism does not extend beyond a significant minority and criticism of the cost of the monarchy is muted.
Despite her annual Christmas Day message, the Queen is respected less for what she says than what she represents: dignity, stability, continuity. Qualities worth celebrating.
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