Just today the news has been spreading that, for the first time, the polls are showing that those who seem to favor voting for Scottish independence are in the majority, albeit an ever so slight one (within the margin of error, in fact). The vote is less than two weeks away and what once seemed like a proposition that was surely not going to pass now looks like it may have a fighting chance. It will be interesting to see the result of the vote. Polls can be deceiving and in the time remaining it may swing the other way agin. I’m not interested in discussing the politics involved. However, there is a possibility, and it is just that: merely a possibility, that there could be some heraldic ramifications for the Queen if Scotland becomes independent.
At present, the plan is that even if Scotland votes for independence it would remain a constitutional monarchy. Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, has indicated that there is no plan to declare a republic, at least not immediately. Rather, Her Majesty would still be Queen of Scotland and act as the Scottish Head of State in an independent Scotland. However, such a scenario could remove Scotland from the United Kingdom. So, as the Queen is in some sixteen countries already she would be the sovereign of Scotland and she would continue to be the sovereign of the U.K. with the difference that the U.K. would no longer include Scotland. This would not be unique. The Queen is Queen of Canada, Queen of Australia and Queen of New Zealand, for example. None of those countries is in the U.K but she is, nonetheless, sovereign of those nations.
With an independent Scotland the United Kingdom would consist of England (including Wales) and Northern Ireland. Currently the U.K is described as a united kingdom of “Great Britain and Northern Ireland” meaning all of the territory on the island of Britain as well as the northern part of the the separate island where Ireland is located. (NOTE: the Channel Islands are possessions of the Queen but not part of the U.K.) I suppose it could be argued that if she remains the Queen of Scotland then she could still be said to be Queen of Great Britain. However, the point of this referendum is that now Great Britain and N. Ireland is all one country and the Scottish people will be voting on whether or not they want Scotland to be a separate country. This would make it a separate country with its own monarch who happens to be the same person as the monarch of the U.K. as is the case with Canada, Australia, etc. While those working for an independent Scotland have assured the voters that there is no plan at present to dump the monarchy that does not mean it might not be considered at some future time, such as after the passing of the present Queen. In fairness, it should be pointed out that it would also be possible to have a politically independent Scotland while maintaining a monarchial union, that is to say, that Scotland would continue to be part of a United Kingdom with its own separate government.
So, all of this could, I say could, potentially have heraldic ramifications. The current coat of arms used by HM reflects, in its quarterings, the various lands that make up the United Kingdom: England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales does not have a separate quartering because it is considered to be part of England, although, in fairness, perhaps not by all the Welsh! Many are probably familiar with the fact that the Queen uses a slightly different coat of arms when in Scotland. In that version the Scottish quarter receives pride of place, as does the Scottish supporter (the unicorn), the crest is different and the collar encircling the shield is that of the Order of the Thistle instead of the Garter. Nevertheless, this is a different version of the arms of the United Kingdom. The quarters for England and N. Ireland are still included. However, the Queen also has a separate coat of arms in right of Canada and also makes use of badges and other heraldic insignia in her other realms.
This begs the question of what may, again I say may, happen to the royal arms if Scotland becomes an independent country and is no longer part of the United Kingdom. Officials at Buckingham Palace have indicated that the Queen may find it better to appoint a Governor-General to represent her in Scotland as there is in places like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In such a case then perhaps HM will make use of the Scottish royal arms all alone as would be her lawful right as sovereign of an independent Scotland?
In addition, modifications would need to be made to the royal arms as used in the U.K. This would mark the first major change in the royal arms since the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 at which time the inescutcheon of Hanover was removed from the royal arms because the Salic Law prevented a woman from succeeding to the throne of Hanover. It would also mark the first time there was a significant change in the four quarterings of the arms since 1801 when the quarter for France was removed from the arms of George III. The quarter for Scotland would be removed from the royal arms as it would no longer be part of the U.K. and, very likely the thistle would be removed from the compartment at the base of the achievement. It might also be possible that the unicorn supporter might be replaced. So instead of the current royal arms (below left) we could conceivably end up with something more like (below right)
Again, it is worth noting that in this hastily prepared image I did not take the time to remove the thistle from the compartment or to replace the unicorn supporter. While the former would almost certainly be done it is really uncertain that the supporter would be changed so that there would be two lion supporters. The last time one of the supporters in the royal arms was changed was 1603 when James I succeeded Elizabeth I and replaced the dragon with a unicorn. It could be argued that leaving the unicorn supporter in the royal arms even if Scotland becomes independent is acceptable. It would also not be unthinkable simply to have two lion supporters as in the image below (left). Personally, I’d like to see the reintroduction of the Welsh dragon supporter especially as Wales doesn’t get a quarter of its own on the shield. (Image below right). But, I am getting waaaaaaay ahead of things. All of this would have to be discussed and worked out properly in consultation with the Earl Marshal and HM College of Arms in London as well as the Court of Lord Lyon in Edinburgh. It seems, however, that there would be little reason to include a quarter for Scotland in royal arms of the sovereign of the U.K. if Scotland is no longer in that same U.K. Otherwise, quarterings for all of HM realms and territories would already be included in the royal arms and, of course, such is not the case.
Indeed, it will be interesting and, by all recent accounts, now much more exciting to see the outcome of the September 18 referendum. Most people will, rightly, be concerned with the political, the economic, and the social aspects of an independent Scotland. It will also be interesting to see if and how the admittedly minor heraldic aspect of it all is resolved as well.