A few days before the Scottish independence referendum, the Queen warned Scottish voters to “think very carefully about the future”. It was the first time she had expressed a view on the vote, and came after reports that she had “a great deal of concern” about the prospect of a Yes vote, following narrowing polls.
The Guardian, which is telling the behind-the-scenes story of “how the Union was saved”, reveals the delicate negotiations behind the monarch’s intervention.
Its reporting uncovers that when the Queen spoke publicly, it was after she had been urged by senior Whitehall officials who were acting on David Cameron’s concerns about the Yes camp developing a rapid last-minute momentum. The government figures suggested the Palace that it would be helpful to the No cause for the Queen to intervene.
The conversations took place between the Cabinet Secretary very close to the Prime Minister, Sir Jeremy Heywood, and Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s Private Secretary. They initially discussed the wisdom of the Queen speaking out at all, considering how meticulously impartial she has been throughout her reign. The Guardian reports that “the Queen was minded to speak out”, which meant the two negotiators then had to work out a way in which she could do so, in the most neutral way possible.
The report also reveals that the PM had discussed the upcoming referendum with the monarch during a stay at Balmoral a week before she spoke publicly. On the last day of his stay, the shock YouGov poll that was the first to put the Yes side ahead, by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, was published.
This revealing inside take on the build-up to the referendum quotes a Whitehall source, who explains how delicately the Queen’s comments were planned:
She knew exactly what she was doing, which is, there are two possible responses on the referendum. [They are] either: one, you buy into this is a fantastic festival of democracy, or two, you suggest this is a decision filled with foreboding. So by saying I hope people will think carefully you imply the second. So if they’d said: ‘What do you think of the referendum ma’am?’ and she’d said: ‘Oh it’s lovely’, that would be very different. Without her taking a side, it cast just the right element of doubt over the nature of the decision.