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12 September 2022

How will Scotland respond to King Charles?

The Scottish government has declared its interest in a royal head of state, but there are republican voices of discontent in the country.

By Rachel Wearmouth

The UK continues to mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth II. The late monarch’s funeral details have now been confirmed: it will take place a week today, on Monday 19 September.

King Charles III will be in Westminster Hall to receive addresses from both MPs and peers this morning (12 September) before heading to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon to hear a motion of condolence from MSPs at Holyrood.

Later today, the Queen’s coffin will be taken from the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, down the city’s Royal Mile to St Giles’ Cathedral, where the King will take part in a special service. Tomorrow, her body will be flown to London and on Wednesday (14 September) her coffin will be taken from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Hall, where it will stay for four days.

Much has been said about the royal family’s affection for Scotland and, particularly, how the nation held a special place in the Queen’s heart. But her passing came during the SNP’s drive for a second vote on Scottish independence, and although no one expects messages to be anything but respectful and sympathetic, there is speculation that today could witness a slight change in tone.

Yet the Deputy First Minister of Scotland, John Swinney, said this morning that the SNP’s position on keeping the British monarch in an independent Scotland had not changed: “As a representative of the mainstream opinion on the question of independence, my party’s position is that the monarch up until Thursday was HM the Queen, it is now HM King, [and] should be the head of state of an independent Scotland.”

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He asserted this despite a small number of anti-monarchy campaigners yesterday (11 September) booing the proclamation of King Charles III in Edinburgh, and calling for a Scottish republic.

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Parliament remains in an official period of mourning, with government business paused and the civil service providing minimal updates. But opposition parties are keen to scrutinise Liz Truss’s energy bills plan – which relies on the UK borrowing money, and will be introduced next month at a cost of £100bn.

The Lib Dems have cancelled their annual conference in Brighton next week because it would have run simultaneously with the Queen’s funeral. Labour’s conference, in Liverpool from Sunday 25 September, will go ahead but many want the government to squeeze in some Commons business before then.

Political parties are reportedly in talks about an early return of MPs after conference season – potentially starting on 11 October rather than 18 October.

Downing Street downplayed speculation that Liz Truss would be going with the new King on a tour of the four nations. Over the weekend, newspapers had suggested the new Prime Minister, who’s had a shaky start in the job, would join the new monarch at a series of public engagements. But, it was clarified, Truss would only be present at services of reflection. “The King is leading national mourning across the UK and the Prime Minister will join and attend the services,” a No 10 source told the Guardian. “The PM is not ‘accompanying’ the King and it is not a ‘tour’. She is merely attending the services.”

Truss has also been accused of politicising senior civil service roles after she sacked Tom Scholar, the top civil servant in the Treasury, on her first day in office. The former cabinet secretary Robin Butler, who served under Tony Blair, John Major and Margaret Thatcher, said politicians are “beginning to forget the constitution” and that “the civil service is Her Majesty’s civil service”.

He told the BBC removing Scholar as an economic crisis approaches would be destabilising, saying: “I think they are behaving improperly towards the civil service. It will weaken them but it will also corrupt our system because one of those great advantages of having an independent, loyal civil service will be compromised.”

During the Tory leadership campaign Truss vowed to rip up “Treasury orthodoxy”, and dismissed economists’ criticism that tax cuts and more borrowing would be inflationary. As well as Truss’s actions on the UK economy, MPs will be keen to discuss the fallout from the Ukrainian counteroffensive, in which Ukrainian forces have reportedly retaken much Russian-occupied territory over the last few days.

Journalists have been denied access to the front line, but videos on social media show Ukraine’s troops in north-eastern towns and villages previously held by Russia. Vladimir Putin’s army continues to hold around a fifth of the country, and no one is predicting a speedy end to the conflict, but the news is a blow for the Russian president’s authority in Moscow.

But for now, political debate of all kinds will continue to take a back seat.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; subscribe here.

[See also: Would the Queen really have wanted a nationwide blackout on fun?]