I’M not sure which is the more depressing: that the UK has just reaffirmed the hereditary right of kings or that a majority of its citizens demonstrably agree with that situation.

Despite this, as we begin the new Caroline era, a grown-up debate about the future of the monarchy is surely overdue.

Where to begin? Let’s start with democracy. Ironic, is it not, that in a so-called democracy the one office citizens can never aspire to hold is that of Head of State. The idea that this should be determined by accident of birth and forever be the preserve of just one family offends every notion of democracy.

There are ten hereditary monarchies left in Europe. All of them claim to be constitutional with their role defined by and subject to a legal framework of governance. In all others, the monarch swears to abide by and uphold the constitution.

Not in the UK. Here the coronation vows, which we shall witness next May, require a declaration of respect for God and Church. No reference is made to parliament, the people, or any notion of a democratic framework.

The allegiance is the other way round. To represent the people who elect them to parliament, its members must first swear loyalty to the unelected monarch.

Most people appear to endorse this arrangement, though support is declining. A YouGov poll in May this year put support for the monarchy across the UK at 60%, with 27% favouring abolition and 17% having no opinion. In Scotland the institution has only 45% in favour, with 40% against.

In part these figures reflect the active promotion of a hereditary monarchy by the media and state. In fairness, the royal household have a PR operation that is second to none. They are adept at playing a mass media which ranges from an embarrassingly sycophantic national broadcaster to voyeuristic tabloids.

The British monarchy is the most expensive in Europe. In terms of direct funding, it is seven times as expensive as Spain’s royal household. It is funded in three ways: a sovereign grant provided by parliament, profits from the duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and earnings from private investments.

The sovereign grant replaced the civil list in 2011 and is calculated as a percentage of the profits made by the Crown Estates. The Crown Estate is a government agency which manages a huge portfolio of land and property, valued recently at £15Bn. None of this belongs to the royal family; they are assets owned by the state on behalf of the public and were nationalised in 1760.

The grant was initially set at 15% of the Crown Estate profit. In 2016, that was upped to 25%, the extra to pay for Buckingham Palace repairs. A clause in the 2011 act provides that the grant will never be less than the year before.

The Duchy of Lancaster is a private estate worth £640m which generated £24m profit last year. The Duchy has an ambiguous status which the royals have a history of exploiting. It operates like a private company yet is exempt from tax and scrutiny.

The monarch also has enormous private wealth and investments. The late Queen Elizabeth’s wealth was estimated at £370m, which included Balmoral and Sandringham. It is not known how much income this generates, and we have no right to ask.

Royal finances are shrouded in secrecy. The late Queen Elizabeth’s will is hidden from the public. Never in our lifetimes will we find out whether some of this income, boosted by decades of state aid, will pass to private interests here or abroad. What we do know is that whatever passes to the King will be exempt from inheritance tax.

The monarchy is not only exempt from tax obligations, but from freedom of information legislation. I have tried repeatedly to find out whether any money coming from the taxpayer was used to pay for Andrew’s out-of-court settlement, to no avail.

Of course, on top of the published figures, the monarchy has many hidden costs to the taxpayer including a whopping bill for security. The campaign group Republic estimate the monarchy cost £345m in 2017.

If the monarchy’s finances were more transparent, the public might question whether the institution should continue. In Scandinavia monarchies have gone out of their way to slim down and “act normal” by getting around on bikes and sending their kids to state schools. Not here. There seems to be no limit to the extravagance we are expected to fund. In essence, the public are invited to finance a celebration of unearned wealth organised in a feudal hierarchy that glorifies inequality.

One of the common arguments in favour of the monarchy is that it is good for tourism. VisitBritain once claimed they bring in £500m to the economy – based on a dubious calculation of the percentage of heritage sites associated with the royals. In fact, people visit buildings because of their history and architecture, not the current inhabitants. The most visited royal palace in Europe is Versailles – and there’s not been a monarch in residence for quite some time.

Contrary to popular belief, the constitutional power wielded by the monarch is not purely ceremonial. The King plays a significant role in the introduction and passage of legislation. We all know about royal assent, the process by which a bill passed in parliament becomes the law of the land.

Less well known is the process of royal consent, the process whereby the monarch must agree to a bill being published. This was used 146 times between 1970 and 2013. Crucially, the King gets to decide whether any bill which has an impact on the public and private affairs of the monarch should be published. This veto is little talked about. Every democrat should be deeply uneasy at giving this power to an unaccountable head of state.

How does all this affect the political debate in Scotland? Opinion is split almost equally as to whether we should become a self-governing country or not. Independence is about the right to determine our own future. It would be a mistake to conflate the arguments about the monarchy with the arguments for independence.

It is entirely possible that Scotland could become an independent nation state which would remain a member of the Commonwealth and retain the King as head of state. It is also possible it might become a republic, which appears to be the direction of travel for many other Commonwealth countries.

At the moment, we have no right to choose either outcome. As we move towards becoming an independent country, we will need to review everything about how we are governed and develop a modern constitution. That constitution will embody the human and political rights of our citizens and define how we govern ourselves – and it ought to be put to a vote.

That will be the opportunity for Scotland to decide whether the medieval relics of the monarchy should continue or be abolished. With the coronation on the way, we need to have an open discussion where those who take a republican view are respected and not demonised.

Tommy Sheppard is an SNP MP for Edinburgh East

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