The Queen of England’s official historian in Scotland has sparked a political row by claiming that the country could flourish as an independent state
Professor Christopher Smout, the Historiographer Royal, said it was “perfectly feasible” for Scotland to go it alone and that it could prosper in the same way as eastern European republics have done since the break-up of the Soviet Union. He claimed voters south of the border would be happy to see the break-up of the United Kingdom.
He also criticised claims by John Reid, the home secretary, that Scotland’s national security would be compromised by independence, describing his argument as “a complete non-starter”.
Smout, who is emeritus professor of history at St Andrews University, will this week chair a conference in Edinburgh, organised to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union. Ministers have condemned his intervention claiming that, as a member of the Royal household, he should remain politically neutral.
Senior Labour figures said his comments, so close to an election when the future of the Union will be a key issue, were “naive and destabilising” and would be an embarrassment to the Queen.
“It is unfortunate that someone this close to the Queen is coming out with these frankly shallow and not very significant arguments in favour of independence,” said Tom Harris, the Glasgow South MP.
“Politically, it would be better for us to stay in the Union and I would have thought that if a senior member of the Queen’s household did not share that view then they would just keep their mouth shut.
“I wouldn’t want to anticipate what Her Majesty’s view on this is, but I would expect she would be the first and foremost defender of the Union. I think he should be careful about coming out with destabilising and naive views without the express authority of the Queen because it does put a question mark over the royal family’s position on all of this.”
Allan Wilson, the deputy Scottish enterprise minister, said: “An adviser to the head of state should not be trying to destabilise it and jeopardise the jobs and prosperity of millions of Scots.”
Smout said the current constitutional settlement is unstable and it will be resolved either by the break-up of the Union or by Scots MPs being stripped of their voting rights at Westminster. Scottish independence, he said, would be welcomed in England, although he admitted that it would sadden the Queen.
Smout, who has advised the Queen on Scottish history since 1993, rejected Reid’s suggestion a separate Scotland would be a soft target for Al-Qaeda and would require frontier guards.
“There are no border patrols between Belgium and Holland and security there is no worse or better than it is here. There is no reason to think security would be slacker in an independent Scotland. Dr Reid’s observations are a complete nonstarter.”
He added: “The English would probably not be awfully upset if the Scots decided to go it alone. I think the Queen would be sorry, but I can’t see many other people south of the border being too regretful.”
Meanwhile, Archie Stirling, the founder of Scotland’s newest political party, the Scottish Democrats, has played down suggestions he could save the Union.
Professor ‘right to speak out’
Yet more double standards from Labour