One of the biggest unresolved questions about independence is what to do with the monarchy.

The Scottish Government's White Paper said Scotland would be "a constitutional monarchy." But would it be King William IV or V sitting on the Scottish throne?

When Elizabeth ascended to the throne in February 1952, she adopted the royal style of Elizabeth the Second and took the Latin form 'EIIR'. Many Scots believed that the daughter of George VI should have been Elizabeth Regina and the Royal Cypher "ER" and not "EIIR".

At a time when the status of the United Kingdom is in question, it is much more than a mere question of honorifics and royal cyphers – it cuts to the heart of our culture, and the correct styling of the head of state should be a source of national pride – or grievance.

During the reign of Elizabeth I, Scotland had, of course, been an independent realm. James VI succeeded the Virgin Queen after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, making him King James I of England. Historians refer to "James I and VI" because he was king of two different kingdoms – hence his two titles.

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King Charles, collectively, is a numerical reprieve as there were no others in Scottish history before 1603. The new Prince of Wales will be a problem one day: William of Orange was William III of England and William II of Scotland from 1689 to 1702. William IV reigned over the United Kingdom from 1830 to 1837. Prince William would be King William V of England and IV of Scotland.

This might be an old problem, but so is the 1707 Union that preoccupies us today. The resulting Pillar Box War during the 1950s was a small but dramatic moment for Scotland's political identity. Scots sent letters of protest denouncing the royal cypher of the new Queen for use on Scottish letterboxes.

On November 28, 1952, there was a police presence at the official unveiling of Scotland's first 'EIIR' pillar box at Gilmerton Road and Walter Scott Avenue junction in Edinburgh.

Within 36 hours, the royal cypher had been defaced with tar, followed by two unsuccessful attempts to blow up the box in the next two months. A parcel containing gelignite was found inside the post box a week later, and on January 2, 1953, a postal worker found another explosive charge.

By February 7, two workmen saw a man vandalising the box with a sledgehammer wrapped in a sack before fleeing. On February 12, the three-month-old post box in Edinburgh's Inch district was wholly blown apart by a gelignite bomb. A small Lion Rampant was discovered the next day draped across the wreckage. A brand new pillar box appeared soon after with no sign of 'EIIR'.

Beyond the protest, a constitutional effort was underway, too. John MacCormick, the acclaimed Home Rule advocate, and Ian Hamilton (best known for his part in returning the Stone of Destiny) challenged the Queen's right to call herself Elizabeth II as a violation of the Act of Union 1707.

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The court case and exploding post boxes were a national sensation. MacCormick v Lord Advocate was lost as there was no provision concerning numbering monarchs. The case concluded it was part of the royal prerogative, and they had no title to sue the Crown.

The Royal Titles Act 1953 gives the Queen the authority to call herself what she wants through "Her Royal Proclamation". While not the second Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, the late Queen was nevertheless the second in the territory which now made up the UK.

But a precedent for Scotland was to be made by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, now in his second term (1951-55). Though he was careful not to bind future monarchs, Churchill announced that he and the Secretary of State for Scotland had devised a formula based on the "higher number" practice.

On April 1, 1953, during Prime Minister's Question Time, John Rankin, a Labour MP for Glasgow, "asked the Prime Minister if he will arrange that the royal cypher is not placed on new pillar boxes."

Churchill responded, "Her Majesty's Government are not prepared to place any general restriction on the use of the royal cypher. Its use for any particular purpose is a matter for detailed decision in relation to the circumstances of the case."

With growing frustration for the topic, he said, "When I think of the greatness and splendour of Scotland, and her wonderful part in the history not only of this island but of the world, I think they really ought to keep their silliest people in order."

On April 15, Churchill concluded, "Although I am sure neither the Queen nor her advisers could seek to bind their successors in such a matter, I think it would be reasonable and logical to continue to adopt in future whichever numeral in the English or Scottish line were higher."


The Prime Minister can advise the sovereign to take their title, as, over the last century, it has been traditional for the royal title to be different from the sovereign's Christian name. The decision to accept the title of Elizabeth II was taken on the advice of the Accession Council.

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Churchill's government arranged for new pillar boxes in Scotland to be decorated with only Crown insignia. This also included mail vans and other post office paraphernalia. New postboxes erected in Scotland after 1953 had only the Crown image. The 'EIIR' cypher continued to be used across the rest of the UK (including in Dunoon in 2018 before it was quickly scheduled for replacement).

The Pillar Box War and the MacCormick and Hamilton case are healthy reminders that history is the bedrock of modern politics. After the recent Supreme Court ruling against the Scottish Government, we must all take pride in the fact that accuracy and truth are much more than tokenistic gestures. Now more than ever, that seems a critical ideal for all of us to aspire to.