ThinkLockdown: a right Royal misjudgement?

ThinkLockdown: a right Royal misjudgement?

by Linda Holt
article from Saturday 28, March, 2020

EVERYTHING IS GRIST to the nationalist mill, and there is no reason to think that the Covid-19 pandemic would be any exception. The weekend’s influx of visitors to the Highlands and islands brought cries to refortify Hadrian’s Wall, even though the majority of these invaders came from the Central Belt. What else could the Coronavirus be but a Unionist plot to wipe out Scotland?

Less rabid nationalists have insisted that an exclusively Scottish response to the virus would have been more effective than the UK’s approach because, well, the actions of an independent Scotland are always preferable to those of Westminster. Every day the First Minister is praised for her clarity and eloquence in contrast to bumbling Boris, even though she is doing little more than re-announcing the UK government’s measures for dealing with the crisis. 

Nevertheless, Scotland is different, as the Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood implied on Wednesday when the First Minister announced the formation of Scotland’s own answer to the UK-wide Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE). It will be able to offer the Scottish Government “bespoke advice” to pursue different policies on the pandemic from the rest of the UK. The only surprise about Sturgeon setting up a parallel Covid-19 court is that she didn’t do it sooner.

Set against this background, Prince Charles’s decision to self-isolate in Scotland was always going to inflame the nationalists, as yesterday’s headlines in The National demonstrated. The unionists’ reflexive defence of the Prince’s actions was, however, ill-advised. It was not only pathetically weak, but also fell into the trap of seeing the issue in reductive nationalist terms. 

However much we might like to relate to the royal family as if they were characters in a soap opera, the real significance of the monarchy is symbolic and mythic, particularly during a crisis. Eight decades later, the Queen Mother is still praised for ensuring the King stayed in London during the Blitz, toughing out the war with the people. The contrast with her grandson’s behaviour could hardly be more acute.

Prince Charles and his entourage travelled to his Birkhall residence on the Balmoral Estate on Sunday. This was against public advice on avoiding non-essential journeys, remaining in your primary residence and social distancing. Even if the advice had not existed, the public outcry that arose across the UK about people trying to escape the virus by decamping to remote areas should have given Prince Charles and his advisors pause for thought.

Then came the news that he had been tested by NHS Grampian on Monday, found to have a mild case of Covid-19, and was now self-isolating with his wife at Birkhall House. Questions remain unanswered as to how he and Camilla were able to access tests, when they are denied to frontline medical staff and to others displaying only mild symptoms. NHS Grampian said the prince fulfilled the criteria for testing, but these have not been spelled out. If being heir to the throne represents a sui generis criterion, why not just say so? 

The reason, I would suggest, is that openly admitting this leaves a sour taste with some. It reminds people that Prince Charles is not one of us, that there is a mountain of royal privilege separating him from the common herd. There is, however, also a sense in which Prince Charles is all too obviously like us. He betrays the same shoddy impulse, albeit royally-enhanced, as the caravaners and second-homeowners and bulk-buyers who use their comparative privilege to bend the lockdown rules. The point, of course, is that we expect the monarchy to represent our better selves; they are accorded privilege because they are on a pedestal, not the other way round.

Negotiating this paradox, in which royals are both of and not of the people, has become more perilous than ever in the twenty-first century. Why on earth did Prince Charles’s advisors go public? I fear some bright spark thought his boss could show he was down with the people if he was also a victim. The virus, after all, is no respecter of rank. The backfire is liable to explode if the Prince turns out to have infected his staff, and cases then spike in Ballater, the town nearest Balmoral. Either way, the episode betrays a monarchy dangerously out of touch with the times.

Photo by Northern Ireland Office - HRH The Prince of Wales, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70060860 

 

 

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