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Friday, October 07, 2022

No token monarch

The argument that our new unelected monarch is just a figurehead with minimal political influence has never been an accurate one, as was illustrated by this news story from a few days ago.

The Guardian reported that King Charles had been allowed to vet and potentially lobby for changes to emergency legislation to freeze rents in Scotland because the measures could affect tenants on his private Highland estate at Balmoral.

They say that the King’s involvement in a bill to stop landlords unjustifiably raising rents for the next six months because of the cost of living crisis, under rules known in Scotland as crown consent, have come to light after the rules at Holyrood were changed following a Guardian investigation into the monarch’s power to influence and amend the UK’s laws:

The Guardian revealed last year that ministers in Edinburgh had allowed Queen Elizabeth to vet at least 67 pieces of legislation that affected her personal property and public powers under the arcane custom, inherited from Westminster. A Scottish government memo revealed it was “almost certain” draft laws had been secretly changed to secure the Queen’s approval.

There has been growing criticism that the unelected monarch is able to use the secretive mechanism to secure changes to proposed laws without the public being informed; an allegation rejected by the royal family.

In response, Holyrood’s presiding officer, Alison Johnstone, told the Scottish government it now had to inform parliament as soon as a new bill was tabled whether the monarch had been allowed to see it first.

Previously, ministers would only tell MSPs at the final stages of a bill’s parliamentary scrutiny that the monarch had been allowed to secretly vet it. Ministers have also refused to release letters from the late Queen’s solicitors lobbying for changes on her behalf.

The cost of living (tenant protection) Scotland bill is the first piece of draft legislation affected by Johnstone’s ruling and is the first at Holyrood to be vetted by the King.

In a further development, Scottish ministers said on Monday they would also start explaining why crown consent was required for new bills. Previously, such explanations have not been made public.

What has not been revealed of course, is whether the bill was actually changed as a result of the King's intervention, an oversight that should be corrected in any transparent democracy.

The soft power employed by the monarch to protect their own interests in this way is not afforded to any other landowner. It happens in all other legislatures including Westminster and Wales, where my own private members bill on Park Homes also required referral to the then Prince oF Wales for his approval, before it could be passed.

At the very least all these legislatures should be as open and transparent about this process as Holyrood is now being, however the wider question is why an unelected head of state can effectively overrule democratically elected representatives in this way? Taking away the power of consent from the monarchy is long overdue.
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