In 1629 Colonial America, the land of what presently constitutes the Carolinas was granted by Charles I to Attorney General and fellow Londoner Sir Robert Heath to establish tobacco plantations. While Heath lost his possessions during the English Civil War under the reign of Oliver Cromwell, eight noble ‘Lords Proprietor’ were granted the Carolinas by Charles II upon the Stuart restoration in 1663.
It this day and age, it seems farcical that a King, claiming to hold power by divine right, grants foreign land claimed in his name on which he had never set foot to fellow aristocrats, which they then ‘own’ and exploit for financial gain. Imagine the King of Saudi Arabia granting Saudi oil sheiks drilling rights in Kent, by Allah’s command. However improbable, that was the basis for the legitimacy for English imperialism.
While it was the British Parliament which passed the various mercantile acts which led to the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, rebellion was legitimized in terms of King George III breaking a social compact between the government and the governed.
Thomas Jefferson argued that the government was bound to respect the inalienable rights of the people, and failure to do so justified the overthrow of the tyrannical government and replacement with one bound to respect these rights. While still not absolute today, “all men are created equal” distinguished the Americans from the aristocrat dominated British brethren.
While there was some discussion during the 1787 constitutional convention of establishing an ‘Elective Monarch’ as head of state, the framers ultimately opted for a President. The framers also rejected aristocratic titles and privilege in Article I, Section 9 of the Unites States Constitution of 1787:
“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.”
An independent United States eliminated the monarchy and aristocracy through a written constitution, because it was incompatible with their vision of equality. While there are still Americans who admire the UK Monarchy, there is no populist clamour to bring back feudalism.
Scotland suffered much more than America under the aristocratic/monarchic system, and is still living under its legacy. Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the Highland Clearances were unleashed by aristocratic landowners creating enclosure farms on their estates, driving thousands from their land, decimating the Scottish clan system. Crofters paid rent to farm on the estates, a system which still exists to this day.
While not as powerful as in previous centuries, the enduring influence of the unelected Monarch and House of Lords over UK and Scottish policy is archaic, undemocratic, and illegitimate. In previous centuries, the legitimacy of UK monarchy was forcefully held to be based on divine right, those who contested could be burned at the stake. UK law continues to criminalize even imagining a Head of State other than the Monarchy, though thankfully this law has not been recently enforced.
After independence, Scots are not bound by any UK precedent incompatible with their new democratic status. Scotland’s Future asserts that sovereignty rests with the Scottish people, yet has also proposed keeping the ‘sovereign’ Queen as Head of State after independence.
If sovereignty will truly lie with the Scottish people after independence, the UK monarchy cannot be sovereign over Scots. Therefore, while the Monarchy will remain Head of State until full independence in 2016, retaining the Monarchy long-term without the people’s consent will be unconstitutional.
Like the American constitution, a Scottish constitution ratified after independence can establish an elected head of state, and abolish noble titles. This would help assure that Scotland will begin its new-found democracy with the people truly sovereign, rather than weakly clinging to feudal notions of aristocratic privilege and divine right.
As independence draws closer, Scots should not be preoccupied with the feelings of the Royal Family or ‘Lords’ losing their unearned sovereignty over them. They’ll just have to adapt to modernity and a Scottish’ political enlightenment. They won’t starve.
First published on Newsnet.scot on 16 December 2013 as part of a series of articles on constitutional issues published between July 2012 and Sept 2014.