One of the long standing arguments against British Republicanism (and, by extension, Scottish Republicanism in a post-Independence Scotland on the current prospectus) is that the monarch has no actual power.

To quickly deal with a few other arguments:

  • Nobody actually comes to the UK to see the Queen, she isn’t publicly accessible at Buckingham Palace. We could use it for other things, like housing the homeless.
  • Yes, it will mean that we need to come to an accommodation about the current Crown estates and other assets. That’s ok. They didn’t earn them. Those assets were acquired illegitimately through violently undemocratic means. There’s a national debt somebody mentioned we have to deal with and surely it’s better to appropriate unearned wealth that should be held for the nation from the ultra-rich rather than punish the least well off and ruin the economy?
  • The head of state being head of an established national church  is clearly problematic in a multi-religious nation, never mind the rise of secularism, agnosticism and atheism .
  • Yes, the Queen is very old and does a lot of public engagements. So what?

Leaving aside those and other arguments against a constitutional monarchy, such as the inherent injustice and preservation of unearned privilege, the absence of real power has always been one of the central arguments on the pro-monarchy side. It is an argument which is now demonstrably false. A series of stories in the Guardian have exposed that, far from the legally inert and ceremonial role the Queen and her heirs and successors are said to enjoy since  the mid 70′s (between the Australian constitutional crisis and the rather murky goings on around Alec Douglas-Home she played a role in appointing the executive up until then), the monarchy has clearly continued to play some sort of active part in government legislation and policy up until… errr… now.

The “oh, but they don’t really do anything, it’s purely ceremonial” argument prioritises the admittedly useful political and legal fiction of the dignified part of government over the varied and often unclear, vague and nebulous alternatives presented. Admittedly most of the alternatives have drawbacks: an effective President either elected or selected by lot undermines the supposed legitimacy of the Prime Minister (those of an avowedly Nationalist bent can substitute First there and carry on regardless);  a Prime/First Minister accountable to no one save the legislature they control by definition may grow over mighty; a ceremonial President changes little in practice except the abolition of the hereditary principle although I’d argue that this would be worth the candle in and of itself.

The fact the monarchy does do things, and apparently does so with notable frequency and vigour, rather torpedoes that argument for inertia.

However, the current situation has by and large served us well. An elected President, on either the Franco-American or German-Italian models, would fundamentally change the way the country works. One selected by lot, while appealing to my Erisian sensibilities, doesn’t really change much. And it is actually quite useful to have a Crown which, in the idealistic conception advanced by constitutional monarchists, acts as a proxy for the best interests of the people.

Those who protect us from threats mundanely domestic and exotically foreign do so in the name of Her Majesty. The civil servants and elected members who write the laws and the police officers, tax inspectors, lawyers, judges and prison officers who enforce them serve the Crown. They do these things not in the name of the government of the day, although obviously they are accountable to them to a greater or lesser extent.

One of the things that being a programmer has taught me is that when you have a functioning system, and you don’t want to disrupt your existing users unnecessarily, small incremental improvements are better than rewriting from scratch. Given that the Royalist argument that the monarchy doesn’t actually play a role in the government is clearly untrue (and disregarding the counter argument that who cares, they theoretically could and that’s not ok) but removing them would mean unpicking some fairly useful conventions a simple solution occurs to me.

Keep the crown, dispense with the wearer.

If the monarchy doesn’t play a (fundamentally undemocratic) part in government that won’t affect things. If she does play an undemocratic part in government removing her is a clear win. She does, her heirs and successors will. Time to be rid.