Has the Cambridges' charm offensive in Scotland bolstered the Union?

Has the Cambridges’ charm offensive bolstered the Union? Scottish media say sending ‘popular’ couple north of the border was a ‘shrewd move’ – but some accuse couple of using country as ‘a personal Tartan Disneyland’

  • Prince William and Kate returned to London today after week-long Scotland tour
  • Couple’s trip seen as deliberate ploy to bolster the Union to counter nationalism
  • Royals’ attempt to curry favour appears to have little impact in political arena
  • Barely any Scottish MPs shared positive posts about visit on social media 
  • Engagements largely failed to generate same publicity they receive in England 

Prince William and Kate Middleton concluded their week-long tour of Scotland on Thursday – dubbed a royal charm offensive to help persuade the country to resist the demands of nationalists for independence.

The Duke of Cambridge, 38, bookended the trip with emotional speeches at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, where he represented his grandmother the Queen as Lord High Commissioner.

The father-of-three stressed his deep connection to the nation and its people, admitting Scotland reminds him of ‘some of his happiest and saddest memories’. He was at the Queen’s Balmoral residence when he was given the devastating news his mother had died, yet found comfort in the Scottish countryside during his ‘dark days of grief’ – and he eventually met his wife while studying at St Andrews.

On Thursday William yet again emphasised the country is ‘so important’ to him and his wife in a very personal address, adding: ‘I am shaped by this place. The abiding affection I feel for it is rooted in my experience of its everyday life – in people, relationships, and its ethic of neighbourliness.’ He added that he believes ‘we can be confident about the future’.

Prince William and Kate Middleton returned to London today after a week-long tour of Scotland dubbed a royal charm offensive to help persuade the country to resist the demands of nationalists for independence

But while the royal couple have been well received by members of the public throughout their tour, their engagements largely failed to generate anywhere near the publicity they receive in England – though Kate’s touching visit to a five-year-old cancer patient did secure them some positive coverage to cap off the trip.

Edinburgh Live ran a story about the couple’s sweet tribute to the late Duke of Edinburgh on Wednesday, when they arrived for a special film screening for NHS staff in one of his old Land Rovers, while The Scotsman ran a straight piece on their visit to Orkney to open a hospital.

Certainly in the political sphere, the royals’ attempt to curry favour appears to have had little impact. 

There was radio silence on social media from SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, despite the fact she met with Prince William at the start of the week – a discussion the Duke said he ‘enjoyed’ in his final speech.

The majority of Scottish MPs failed to even acknowledge the royal couple’s visit on their individual platforms, though a few expressed mild contempt for the way the royals’ trip to Orkney was reported in the press.

SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes retweeted a post by Sky News which read: ‘Prince William and Kate have visited the Orkney Islands – their first official trip to the remote Scottish archipelago,’ quipping in response: ‘Checks map……oh aye 10 miles fae the mainland,’ making the point Orkney isn’t especially ‘remote’. 

The majority of Scottish MPs failed to even acknowledge the royal couple’s visit on their individual platforms, though a few expressed mild contempt for the way the royals’ trip to Orkney (pictured) was reported in the press

Given the royals are expected to remain impartial when it comes to politics, the Cambridges’ apparent deployment to bolster the Union has attracted controversy with Scottish nationalist press (pictured on a visit to Starbank Park in Edinburgh)

He also retweeted a post by writer David C.Weinczok which criticised the ‘cliches’ used to described ‘anything Scottish’, as well as a post which referenced a Channel 4 News report that Prince William ‘had a private meeting with Gordon Brown with some suggestion of pulling the Royal Family into a campaign for the Union’. It added: ‘Republicanism isn’t a necessary consequence of Scottish independence, but that depends on the Royals’ behaviour.’

Peter Grant, SNP MP for Glenrothes, who is ‘neutral on the question of the monarchy’, retweeted a post which poked fun at the ‘remote archipelago’ reference and remarked: ‘It’s not the Pitcairn Islands ffs.’

SNP MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, John Nicolson, also shared the tweet quoting the phrase ‘remote archipelago’, while SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Angus MacNeil, retweeted a tweet criticising broadcaster STV for using the phrase in its coverage. He also retweeted an opinion piece published in The National which accused the royals of using Scotland as ‘its own personal Tartan Disneyland’. 

Conservative MP for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Andrew Bowie, clearly saw the Cambridges’ visit as a boost to his constituency, and retweeted a series of Royal Family posts.

SNP MP Martin Docherty-Hughes retweeted a post by Sky News which read: ‘Prince William and Kate have visited the Orkney Islands – their first official trip to the remote Scottish archipelago,’ quipping in response: ‘Checks map……oh aye 10 miles fae the mainland,’ making the point Orkney isn’t especially ‘remote’

Mr Docherty-Hughes also retweeted a post which referenced a Channel 4 News report that Prince William ‘had a private meeting with Gordon Brown with some suggestion of pulling the Royal Family into a campaign for the Union’. It added: ‘Republicanism isn’t a necessary consequence of Scottish independence, but that depends on the Royals’ behaviour’

Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, Alistair Carmichael, also appeared in favour of the visit, sharing a tweet by EMEC [European Marine Energy Centre] which said it was an ‘honour’ to host the Duke and Duchess during their stay in Orkney. 

The Cambridges tweeted about the company’s renewable energy turbine which is helping to turn the tide on climate change. Mr Carmichael also retweeted a post by ITV reporter Hamish Auskerry which reported a chance encounter between the royal couple and local primary school children while out and about in Kirkwall. 

Given the royals are expected to remain impartial when it comes to politics, their apparent deployment to bolster the Union has attracted controversy with Scottish nationalist press.  

The column in The National by Kevin McKenna was particularly scathing, branding the royals a ‘dysfunctional’ family who use Scotland as a ‘year-round, all-inclusive, holiday playground’ with their ‘every whim catered for by grown men and women jouking about in tartan like large liquorice allsorts’.

‘Basically, the British royal family gets to use Scotland as its own personal Tartan Disneyland. It always has done,’ it read. ‘While Scotland remains in the Union, its large extended family is given the most picturesque half of the country to shoot animals, ride horses, walk their dogs and fish in some of the world’s grandest waterways. And all without having to encounter too many actual Scots and their unpredictable ways and rough manners.’

The column in The National by Kevin McKenna was particularly scathing, branding the royals a ‘dysfunctional’ family who use Scotland as a ‘year-round, all-inclusive, holiday playground’

A separate piece penned by readers of the publication made a case for Scotland having its own ‘down-to-earth’ royal family with an ‘approachable, slim-lined monarchy’ like some of our European neighbours.

Professor Aonghus MacKechnie, who contributed to the feature, suggested Prince William’s language resembled a ‘visiting diplomat’ which he claimed ‘evidences the royal detachment from Scotland’. 

‘After all, people would think it deeply odd were William to return home to make a public statement about how “incredibly important” England is to him,’ he argued. ‘But with Scotland still fresh in his mind, now might be a good time for him to state publicly that the issue of independence is a matter for the Scottish people and one in which the monarchy will take no part.’  

Elsewhere, writing in The Herald, columnist Rosemary Goring observed that May is the month when ‘the English try to change out minds’. 

Referencing the Duke’s Scottish title, the Earl of Strathearn, she observed: ‘Despite William’s sweet words and gentle manner, he brought to mind Shakespeare’s warning – “rough winds do shake the darling buds of May” – as well as another royal who once sought to sway us,’ – a nod to the Queen who, days before the 2014 referendum, told crowds in Balmoral she hoped everybody thought ‘very carefully about the future’. 

Ultimately it’s the Scottish people who’ll have the final say over whether the country chooses to go it alone. The Courier painted a brighter picture about the royals’ visit, with columnist Jenny Hjul suggesting ‘wheeling out William and Kate’ in Scotland was a ‘shrewd idea’, whether it was a deliberate ploy to boost the Union or not.

‘The fact that they have such a strong Scottish back story makes them the ideal royals to dispatch north when Scots need reminding what binds the United Kingdom together,’ she wrote.  

‘In the wake of an election that secured five more years of Scottish Nationalist bellyaching about independence, now is a good time to play the Windsor card, which still resonates with the majority here.’ 

The Courier painted a brighter picture about the royals’ visit, with columnist Jenny Hjul suggesting ‘wheeling out William and Kate’ in Scotland was a ‘shrewd idea’, whether it was a deliberate ploy to boost the Union or not

She added that the appetite for a republic ‘never really takes off in Scotland’, despite a ‘political undercurrent of anti-monarchism’.

Jenny also suggested that the Cambridges’ popularity ‘clearly unsettles’ Nicola Sturgeon, referencing the SNP leader’s irritation about the couple’s previous trip across the border in December.

But for all of William’s heartfelt musings and reminiscing about his family’s special times spent in Scotland, according to TV presenter and historian Dr Tessa Dunlop, ‘it will take more than William and Kate to save the Union’.  

‘Take it from someone who grew up in Scotland with an English accent, “vanilla” Kate and William won’t be converting any nationalists,’ she told Mail+.

‘The Royal Family really are seen as an English family – it’s only the Queen who can “pack a punch” north of the border, so don’t expect them to “save the union”.’   

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