Each year the Queen takes a week of engagements in Scotland – outwith her lengthy personal stays at Balmoral – the highlight of which is the Garden Party at Holyrood Palace. This week I was afforded an insight into this major social event in the Royal calendar when I joined thousands of guests in the pouring rain on the palace lawn in Edinburgh.
Arriving an hour before proceedings commenced we were guided by the visiting Metropolitan Police officers to a long snaking queue past the entrance of Scotland’s new democratic parliament building. Umbrellas were everywhere, many emblazoned with the regalia of big corporations or union flags. Moving along we were witness to celebrated servicemen and women and banks of those offered an opportunity to visit the palace in recognition of achievements both social and cultural. A true smorgasbord of civic Scotland.
Once inside the walls and decorative gardens, the first bars of ‘God Save the Queen’ rang out as people jostled for position to see a small old lady of 87 years step out of her palace to walk amongst a crowd of excitable – mostly middle aged – guests. The absurdity of it all hit home, as archers in medieval costume paced behind a crowd of top-hat and tailed gentlemen. Modern it was not, the rain poured further.
After further taking in the enthralled crowd, and hearing who I assumed was a Lord discussing his impending ambassadorship of a Scout group in Surrey or Somerset or Sussex, we wandered the grounds looking for tea and sandwiches. Passing by groups of reminiscing acquaintances and business leaders, we would see an engaged Alex Salmond chatting, an umbrella-less Ruth Davidson marquee bound and a visibly excitable David Mundell enjoying the pomp of it all. Scotland’s political class could not miss out on such an occasion it would seem.
Eventually finding ourselves in a one of the huge marquees we were treated to a thoroughly warming cup of tea, fresh mint and cucumber sandwiches and delicious cakes. The marquees found themselves thronging with people looking for shelter from the open heavens, making them fertile territory to overhear the conversations of those around. One snippet struck me more than others.
“These cakes are delicious”, the woman said.
“Well, we are paying for it all”, came the joking reply of the man standing beside her.
So with that throw away comment freshly in mind I headed off, the rain and ceremony both lasting around two hours. As I strolled up the Royal Mile I began to think about the day out, the current political context, and the timing of events to come later this week.
Independence and celebrating equality
On my walk I couldn’t shake the feeling that the Queen’s visit in the week that across the Atlantic our American cousins celebrate their independence is somewhat ironic. Perhaps most fitting is to look back to their declaration of independence on July 4th, 1776 as guidance. Its second sentence reads,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Over 250 years ago, and less than seventy-five years after the Act of Union, the progressive voices of American Independence proclaimed all men equal. Today in the United Kingdom, as exhibited on this latest Royal visit, not much has changed to suggest the voice of those American’s had much impact on Britain’s social structures.
What I took home with me was one clear lesson. As we move towards a referendum on the kind of country we want to be part of it is worth remembering that in the United Kingdom today, amongst the Monarchy, its Lords and Ladies we still witness that some men are created more equal than others.