TThe world’s eyes turned towards Scotland after Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral on Thursday, the Scottish summer home she had been living in.
The U.K.’s longest reigning monarch, aged 96, the Queen had suffered several years of ill-health. Charles her son, the King of Great Britain & Northern Ireland and Camilla his wife, are now the Queen Consort. They have been gathered at Balmoral with other royal families and will stay there until Friday, Buckingham Palace stated in a statement.
Plans for the Queen’s death have been held for decades by palace staff and U.K. officials, with elaborate ceremonial protocols regularly discussed and updated. But the fact that the Queen has died in Scotland—rather than in England—adds a new layer of complexity.
Her death is also likely to have political implications as Scotland’s leaders push for the nation to consider independence from the U.K. in the next few years. While Scotland, with a population of 5.45 million, is part of the United Kingdom, it is a separate country from England—where London is located—and has many of its own laws, and has historically been less supportive of the monarchy.
Why did the Queen rule Scotland?
Since her childhood, Queen Elizabeth spent her summers at Balmoral in Aberdeenshire. The castle was purchased by the royal family in 1852 under Queen Victoria’s reign. In a 2016 documentary, her granddaughter Princess Eugenie said the castle is where the Queen is “most happy.”
Clive Irving, the author of Elizabeth II biography The Last QueenHe believes that The Queen wanted to spend her final months in Scotland. “Balmoral was always the one [royal residence] that had the qualities of a real home, compared to Windsor Castle and Buckingham Palace in particular, which is a soulless sort of place.”
In 2022, the Queen’s staff have increasingly limited her travel and engagements, citing “mobility issues”. Just this Tuesday, she broke with protocol when she opted to stay in Balmoral for her formal appointment of the U.K.’s new prime minister Liz Truss. In her 70-year reign the Queen has amounted to 14 former prime ministers. This was the first ceremony outside Buckingham Palace.
Pictures of Truss’ Tuesday meeting showed Queen Elizabeth looking thin and weak, prompting concern from the media.
How does the Queen’s death in Scotland change royal ceremony?
Official protocols for the Queen’s death, in place for decades, have been the subject of extensive leaks in the U.K. media over the years. The overarching plan is known as “Operation London Bridge,” and includes rules for everything from how the Prime Minister will be informed (“London Bridge is down”), to how King Charles III will address the nation, and what will happen to the Queen’s body.
That last part is more complicated since the Queen died in Scotland, a scenario that activated so-called “Operation Unicorn.” The Queen’s body will need to be moved from Balmoral to Holyroodhouse, her residence in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, to lie in rest for a short time. For a reception, the body will be taken up St. Giles Cathedral’s Royal Mile.
Afterwards, Queen Elizabeth II’s body will be taken to London on a royal train from Edinburgh’s Waverley Station. The coffin will be greeted by crowds at various points on the trip to scatter flowers. The GuardianWith another locomotive behind, to pick up the debris. If a train journey is not possible, the coffin will be taken to London via plane (“Operation Overstudy”).
Prime Minister will welcome the coffin to the capital and it will then be taken to Buckingham Palace. The Queen will receive a state funeral at London’s Westminster Abbey ten days after her death (business in parliament will be suspended after confirmation of her death for the preparations.) The Queen will be buried at Windsor Castle.
What does the Queen’s death mean for Scotland’s relationship with the rest of the U.K.?
At a time of turmoil for the United Kingdom, the transition from Elizabeth as monarch to Charles III, her son, is happening. Scotland’s semi-autonomous government is controlled by the Scottish National Party (SNP), which advocates for Scotland to become an independent country.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has argued that the U.K.’s departure from the E.U., which Scottish voters opposed, means it is time for a new referendum on Scottish independence. The 2014 independence referendum was rejected by the Scottish people. Sturgeon insists a new poll should take place in 2024—though Truss, the new prime minister, has said she will block efforts to hold one.
The SNP has so far stated that it will keep the monarchy in place as the head of an independent Scottish country. This was understandable under Elizabeth, who has a strong love for Scotland. An Yougov poll released in May showed that 75% of Scots believe the Queen did an excellent job, compared to 84% across the U.K.
However, the overall view of the monarchy in North America has always been more hostile than that of England and Wales. A poll by the think tank British Future, ahead of the Queen’s platinum jubilee this May, found that more than a third of Scots said the end of the Queen’s reign would be the right time to abolish the monarchy and become a republic, compared with a quarter of Brits overall. Prince Charles has a lower popularity than his mother, in Scotland. According to Yougov, 52% of Scots believe he will do a great job as king (compared with 57% overall in the U.K.). Irving, the biographer of Queen Elizabeth II, says the SNP’s commitment to the monarchy “will expire” with the Queen’s death.
If Charles proves an unpopular ruler, it may even weaken the Scots’ commitment to the union, he adds. “Having been on the throne for so long, she represented a depth of degree and continuity that can’t be replicated,” Irving says. “The Queen held everything together.”
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