The abdication of King Juan Carlos of Spain was a surprise but not a shock.

Not only has the septuagenarian monarch been looking increasingly frail recently, a number of scandals have drained support for the monarchy in Spain, particularly among young people. The official line may be that the abdication is for personal reasons, but in reality it is political move designed to reverse the decline in support for the institution of monarchy before it is too late.

It was not always so bad for the king. There was a time when he was seen to have the common touch that the British royals lacked (with the exception of Princess Diana); he was also central to the transition from the Franco dictatorship to democracy and the prevention of a coup in the 1980s.

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However, in recent years, the king's connection with the people has been undermined by a number of scandals. First, there was the revelation he attended an expensive elephant-hunting trip at the height of the recession; then there was the news that his daughter Cristina and her husband were facing charges of embezzling public funds.

The low point came in January when a poll showed more than 60% of Spaniards were in favour of the king stepping down in favour of his son Prince Felipe who will now, once the government has finalised the precise mechanism for doing so, become king. There is a good chance the strategy will work, as Felipe has avoided the scandal that has engulfed other members of his family. Indeed, it has become more common for elderly European monarchs to make way for younger candidates; last year, both Albert of Belgium and Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands stepped down.

The obvious question for British observers is whether our own Queen would, or should, do the same and the answer is that the UK situation is different to the Spanish one. Although the Queen and her family have not been immune from dips in popularity such as the one Juan Carlos has faced - notably, the annus horribilis of 1992 and the aftermath of Diana's death - the Queen retains widespread personal support. Republicanism also remains a minority view, even in Scotland where enthusiastic royalists are a rarer breed than in England.

This popular support means there is none of the pressure on the Queen that the King of Spain faced, and the Queen also shows no inclination to abdicate (a will to carry on that many like and respect). But that does not mean there are no lessons for the British monarchy in the Spanish situation.

The most important lesson is on what a modern monarchy should look like. Juan Carlos, the old-fashioned king who hunts elephants, is handing over to a prince who married a commoner and is seen to lead a normal life and a similar process of modernisation is happening in the British royal family. It is no doubt too slow for some but it is the right direction. Monarchs should not assume they are there by divine right or in perpetuity - they are there with the consent of the people, which has to be earned and retained. It is a principle that every monarchy, including the British one, should remember.