Queen Elizabeth met with SNP leader Alex Salmond in Holyrood House in Edinburgh last year. Photo: David Cheskin, AFP
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The SNP can't duck the monarchy debate forever

The calls for a Scottish republic will grow measurably louder following a Yes vote.

I’ve always thought of the SNP as a republican party with a monarchist leadership. This view isn’t based on any particular piece of research (although James Mitchell’s 2012 book, Transition to Power, details the extent of republican sentiment among the nationalist grassroots).  It’s based, instead, on the fact I’ve never actually met an SNP activist who wanted the Queen to remain head of state in an independent Scotland.

Indeed, a couple of years ago I attended (out of curiosity) an SNP branch meeting in London, at which a spokesperson for an anti-royalist pressure group was speaking. At the end of the talk a straw poll was taken – monarchy: Yes or No? Just one of the 20 or so people there – a heavily bearded gentleman– opposed the idea of an independent Scottish republic, and that was because he was holding out, wonderfully enough, for the restoration of the Stuarts.

That said, SNP leaders have faced little internal pressure over the years to abandon their support for the Queen. Even the socialist 79 Group, active in the early 1980s, was reluctant to force the issue, as some of its leading members (my own late dad, the Group’s chair, among them) were concerned about Scottish nationalism becoming too closely associated with Irish republicanism. So it wasn’t surprising that, last week, Nicola Sturgeon was able to unveil the SNP’s proposed “interim constitution” for an independent Scotland, which reaffirms the party’s commitment to constitutional monarchy, without a word of protest from the nationalist rank and file.

From a strategic perspective, the SNP is right to avoid getting drawn into a debate about the future of the Crown. Across Britain, including in Scotland, republicans are in the minority and the monarchy remains popular. In the run up to the referendum, the Yes campaign would rather talk about child poverty and income inequality than get bogged down in a publicity battle with the right-wing press over what is, for most people, a relatively settled and uncontroversial feature of British life. Besides, there is nothing Better Together – an organisation based on the inherently conservative premise that change, however modest, involves too much unnecessary risk – would love more than the chance to accuse nationalists of plotting to ditch the Queen after a Yes vote.

Yet, as Ian Bell pointed out over the weekend, monarchism doesn’t sit easily with the principle of popular sovereignty. If, as Sturgeon’s draft constitution states, “All state power and authority accordingly derives from … the sovereign will of the people”, why does Scotland need a “sovereign” monarch, other than to perform certain anachronistic constitutional rituals? Moreover, it’s not entirely clear how SNP leaders reconcile their opposition to the “outdated, unelected” House of Lords with their enthusiasm (of sorts) for the equally outdated and unelected Royal family. Aren’t both these institutions part of the same creaking constitutional structure Scotland so desperately needs to escape?

However, the SNP’s deferential approach to the monarchy amounts to more than just pre-referendum positioning. In 2011, the party was campaigning for responsibility over the Crown Estate Commission's (CEC) Scottish functions to be devolved to Holyrood on the reasonable grounds it would “allow proper management of [Scotland’s] important marine assets [and] ensure local communities benefit from the development of offshore renewables.” Naturally, the UK government wasn’t having any of it. So, as Andy Wightman highlighted at the time, George Osborne moved to link the size of the sovereign grant – the annual sum given by the state to the Royal family for the “maintenance of its properties”– to a portion of the CEC's profits, thereby creating an “obstacle” to any transfer of power. Osborne’s shameless political manoeuvre worked – the SNP raised absolutely no objections and has, since then, kept its demands for the devolution of the CEC relatively quiet.

There are, of course, plenty of people in the broader Yes campaign who can’t stand the monarchy and resent the SNP’s backing for it. On Sunday, the Greens’ Patrick Harvie said he viewed the process of drawing up a permanent Scottish constitution after independence as an opportunity to “make the case for an elected head of state”, a sentiment echoed by Robin McAlpine of the Jimmy Reid Foundation and (albeit in less diplomatic terms) Colin Fox of the SSP.

But we know where the socialist left stands. The really interesting thing will be the response of the SNP membership to the constitutional possibilities opened up by independence. Will they settle for the pragmatic royalism of their leaders, or demand a more radical – and authentically democratic – alternative? I suspect the calls for a Scottish republic will grow measurably louder following a Yes vote this September. At the same time, though, the SNP has thrived in part because of its remarkable discipline. One thing I am confident of: the Stuarts won’t be making a return any time soon.

James Maxwell is a Scottish political journalist. He is based between Scotland and London.

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The Femicide Census honours the victims of gender violence

The survey shows that the majority of women who are killed by men suffer their fate at the hands of a current or former partner.

 

The phrase “isolated incident” often turns up in media reports when a man kills a woman. The police use it at press conferences. It’s a code: it means the story ends here, no one else is in danger, the rest of the world can sleep safe because this particular killer does not have his sights on anyone else.

Thanks to the Femicide Census – a collaboration between Women’s Aid and nia, two specialist services dealing with violence against women – we now know how many of those “isolated incidents” there are, in England and Wales at least. Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2015, it was nearly a thousand: 936 women (aged 14 and over) were killed by men in seven years.

As the census reveals, the killing of women follows a very different pattern to the killing of men, although there is one thing both groups of victims have in common: their killers are almost always men.

But female victims are more likely to know their killer than male victims. In fact, they usually know him very well: 598 (64%) of the women were killed by a current or former partner, 75 (8%) by their son, 45 (4.8%) by another male family member. Killing is often what the census describes as “the final act of control”: not an “isolated incident”, but the culmination of a long campaign of coercion and violence.

This means that trends in femicide – the killing of a woman by a man – don’t match the overall homicide trend, as a 2011 UN study found when it noted that the overall rate of homicide had fallen while killings of women remained stable. But official records have long failed to recognise this difference, and there were no statistics specifically on men’s fatal violence against women until 2012, when Karen Ingala Smith (CEO of nia) started cataloguing reports of women killed by men on her personal blog, a project she called Counting Dead Women.

That was the start of the Femicide Census, now a high-powered data project on a platform developed by Deloitte. The list has been expanded so that victim-killer relationship, method of killing, age, occupation, ethnicity, health status and nationality can all be explored.

Or rather, these factors can be explored when they’re known. What gets reported is selective, and that selection tells a great a deal about what is considered valuable in a woman, and what kind of woman is valued. As the census notes: “almost without exception, it was easier to find out whether or not the victim had been a mother than it was to find out where she worked”.

Killings of black, Asian, minority ethnicity and refugee women receive vastly less media coverage than white women – especially young, attractive white women whose deaths fulfil the stranger-danger narrative. (Not that this is a competition with any winners. When the press reports on its favoured victims, the tone is often objectifying and fetishistic.)

Women’s chances of being killed are highest among the 36-45 age group, then decline until 66+ when they jump up again. These are often framed by the perpetrators as “mercy killings”, although the sincerity of that mercy can be judged by one of the male killers quoted in the census: “‘I did not want her to become a decrepit old hag.”

Another important finding in the census is that 21 of the women killed between 2009 and 2015 were involved in pornography and/or prostitution, including two transwomen. The majority of these victims (13 women) were killed by clients, a grim indictment of the sex trade. The most chilling category of victim, though, is perhaps the group of five called “symbolic woman”, which means “cases where a man sought to kill a woman – any woman”. In the purest sense, these are women who were killed for being women, by men who chose them as the outlet for misogynist aggression.

The truth about men’s fatal violence against women has for too many years been obscured under the “isolated incident”. The Femicide Census begins to put that ignorance right: when a man kills a woman, he may act alone, but he acts as part of a culture that normalises men’s possession of women, the availability of women for sexual use, the right to use force against non-compliant or inconvenient women.

With knowledge, action becomes possible: the Femicide Census is a clarion call for specialist refuge services, for support to help women exit prostitution, for drastic reform of attitudes and understanding at every level of society. But the census is also an act of honour to the dead. Over two pages, the census prints the names of all the women to whom it is dedicated: all the women killed by men over the six years it covers. Not “isolated incidents” but women who mattered, women who are mourned, women brutally killed by men, and women in whose memory we must work to prevent future male violence, armed with everything the census tells us.

 

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.