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OBAN, Scotland – In this corner of the Scottish coast, even the monarchists are no longer loyal to the cause.
“You called me a royalist,” chided John, the owner of a local whiskey bar, as he poured local single malt into a jigger. ” It is very moving. People here don’t joke about it.
I had just arrived in this port city, gateway to the Hebrides, to gauge what the locals thought of Windsor’s change of house, and I was already offending the natives.
Rangers, a Glasgow football team famous for their allegiance to the Crown, suffered a home rout that night, despite an emotional fan rendition of “God save the Queen” before the match.
My attempt to shed some light on the defeat, noting that the loss marked “another blow to the royalist cause” – failed. I pleaded the stupid American.
As he rinsed empty pint glasses, John muttered that not all Rangers were Royalists, but refused to say where he really stood on the matter.
Like many foreigners who grew up with Narnia, Lord of the Rings and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I have always had a soft spot for the British monarchy, especially intrigue, business and sordid scandal.
To me, The Royals is the oldest reality show known to man, tolerated by audiences, both for its entertainment value and for maintaining a steady stream of American tourists and other wonder tourists flocking to the British Isles .
I was therefore puzzled to discover from some Britons’ reaction to the Queen’s death that the royal obsession is not always a voyeuristic pleasure – but may also be what some have described as a ‘mystical’ link between the British and the monarchy.
“There’s an uncanny power in this kind of short-circuiting of all things rational,” a BBC analyst told viewers as throngs of onlookers followed the Queen’s coffin procession through Edinburgh.
Ben Judah, a Franco-British writer, warned in a trigger a warning on Twitter on the day of the Queen’s death, that “Americans are welcome in the shitpost, but they should be warned of the intense depths of sentiment here.” He described the late monarch as “a spiritual grandmother” and the “chief saint of a still-felt British religion”.
Deep stuff. But somehow I didn’t feel it.
Whether it was last year’s Oprah interview with Meghan and Harry or my 12th maternal great-grandfather left Yorkshire at 17e century for the New World, the royal sleight of hand had worn off on me.
But what about the Scots? Were they still under the spell after years of intense independence debates? Or were they ready to put democracy above lineages?
The country had long been the favorite playground of the Windsors, especially the Queen (who seemed to underscore this devotion by dying at the Balmoral estate).
Scotland could preserve the monarchy, even if it were to elect independence from the United Kingdom, but without it there wouldn’t be much left of a kingdom.
This reality – and the risk of it being realized – probably explains why King Charles III went out of his way to show his own affection for Scotland in the wake of his mother’s death, by attending a kilted vigil with the historic “Prince Charles Edward Stewart tartan”. ”
Did the Scots buy it?
Most locals were reluctant to say so.
“It’s a very controversial topic,” James, a local whiskey salesman, told me, adding that the charged debate, which opens up Scotland’s sectarian divide, “gives you the chunder.”
I took that for a bad thing.
“While the queen has done her duty and all that, I don’t support the monarchy,” he finally said.
The Queen visited Oban twice during her reign. On her first trip, in 1956, she had to make a difficult exit, climbing over crates of fish with the help of the editor of the local newspaper on a barge in order to reach the royal yacht Britannia during a furious storm. .
The long history and tradition of the monarchy in these regions aside, it is an anachronism, he said. Like many here, James has described himself as “pro-European”.
Despite the deep respect that many Scots have for the Queen, her passing has shed light on the immense privileges enjoyed by members of the British Royal Family, especially in matters of taxation.
Down the street in the former royal stronghold of Inveraray at The George, a pub founded in 1776 (aptly named for King George III, who had to deal with his own tax problems with the Americans ), I thought I had finally found the real Scottish Royalists.
I asked the bar staff if they wore black in deference to the queen. “No, it’s just our regular uniform,” replied a bartender. “You don’t notice the spots.”
A guest described the local attitude towards the royal family as “indifferent indifference”.
“They don’t pay inheritance taxes like the rest of us and then sweep them under the rug,” said Dave Graham, who was visiting his mother, after a game of darts. “We have to get rid of the monarchy.”
His mother objected, saying it should be “scaled down” and reserved “for tourists”.
If Scottish attitudes towards the monarchy in the country were cold, in Glasgow, the country’s largest city, they were frosty.
“It’s overkill,” Robin, a Glasgow barber, told me during a beard trim. We had discussed the pageantry surrounding the transfer of the Queen of Scotland’s coffin to Buckingham Palace, the 10-day mourning period and the planned public holiday on the day of her funeral.
“At the end of the day, someone’s grandmother died,” he said in disbelief.
I asked if the monarchy would survive in Scotland.
“Well, Charles wanted the job, now he’s got it,” he replied with a sneer.
As I was leaving, his colleague leaned over to me halfway, smiled and whispered, “I hate them all.”
The barbers were supporters of Celtic, the predominantly Catholic Republican football yin to Rangers yang – in other words, not exactly natural supporters of the monarchy.
So I wandered all the way to central Glasgow looking for a balance. On Buchanan Street, a pedestrianized shopping street, there were few signs of mourning, apart from window memorials for the Queen.
A professional hurdler raced down the center of the street blindfolded, leaping through rings of fire and spikes to the cheers of the crowd. He made several calls for tips, but did not mention Her Majesty.
Most people I met said they respected the Queen, but felt it was time to move beyond the monarchy.
“It’s the older generation who still really support the royal family,” said Louis, a university student, eating pizza at Paesano, a popular downtown haunt.
He said he was in favor of independence and beyond the monarchy, not right away, but soon, because Scotland had not been treated fairly by the central government. “Young people don’t like the English, I mean the British government,” he said.
Although Charles isn’t particularly popular in Scotland, “he’s better than the guy who was hanging out on Epstein’s island,” Louis said, referring to Charles’ brother Prince Andrew and his friendship with the deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
I headed to George Square (also named after King George III), the center of public life in Glasgow. On the second floor of the City Chambers, a lavish Beaux-Arts building opened by Queen Victoria in 1888, city officials had filed several condolence books.
A photograph of the Queen stood on an easel flanked by the Union Jack and Scottish Saltire in a room with carved satinwood panels and a vast alabaster fireplace. There was no line. Many of the signatories were foreign tourists. A French visitor who signed ‘BB’ noted how popular the Queen had been, ‘even in France’.
Outside, mourners had left bouquets and notes of gratitude on the pavement outside the bedroom doors, but nothing like the sea of flowers at London’s royal sites.
Sandra Moore, a retiree in her 60s who was visiting for the day from a nearby town, reviewed the notes and said she was heartened by the outpouring for the Queen, although she was not as enthusiastic as ‘she had been in other parts of Britain
“She wasn’t just loved in London,” she insisted. “We are a country that needs a monarchy, I am convinced of that.”
She suggested the Queen’s death at Balmoral reminded Scotland of the royal connection to her country.
But will he survive here, I asked?
She paused, examining the collection of flowers.
“It’s lucky the queen died in Scotland,” she replied, then hurried across the square.