Congratulations to the Queen, but her successor must be elected

As the Queen becomes the longest reigning monarch the UK has ever had, it's time to learn lessons from Ireland and move on from the monarchy.

Maggie Chapman
8 September 2015
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Scottish Young Greens retirement party for Mrs Windsor

Today the Queen becomes the longest serving British Monarch. She happens to be up in Scotland opening a new rail link, and the Scottish Young Greens are marking the occassion by hosting a retirement party for her outside the Royal residence in Edinburgh, Holyrood Palace.

It’s difficult for any republican to make the case against one of the most popular public figures of our age. But the Queen’s personal approval ratings hide the fundamental problems with the monarchy. She will hand the crown over to Prince Charles – who does not enjoy her popularity.

There are many royalists who argue that the crown should pass to Prince William. They seem to have misunderstood the principle of monarchy. The point is that you don’t get to choose who inherits the throne. And with Charles’ widespread unpopularity will fall one of the key arguments against having a democratic head of state – that members of the royal family are loved and politicians are loathed. The reason the Queen is held in such high regard is that she assiduously avoids her opinions becoming public. She may not even have any opinions, for all we know. This self-denying ordinance is a remarkable feat. The only thing more difficult than working out the Queen’s opinions on matters of public significance is thinking of another public figure about whom we know less.

Yet we could have so much more. Our nearest neighbours, Ireland, have had two very significant presidents in the past 20 years. Not because they avoided their opinions becoming public, but because they have made significant and positive changes to Irish society. Mary Robinson helped to break the patriarchal structures of Irish public life. Her career subsequent to being president has been perhaps even more distinguished, becoming the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights.

The current President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins (known popularly simply as Michael D.) has promoted gay rights and given greater prominence to his work for peace and justice around the world. He is a published poet, who has helped to promote Irish culture at home and abroad and sets a great example for what we could expect from an elected president.

There are plenty of strong arguments against the monarchy. We cannot be a democratic society until we have democratised our governance. With more than half our parliamentarians appointed, not elected, and a Head of State who has inherited the role, it is no surprise our society and economy is so unequal.

But perhaps the strongest argument for me is that we miss the opportunity to have a Head of State who can make a huge positive difference to our society and our world. So when the Queen does retire, we can have someone, in Prince Charles, who has a track record of using his position to impose his opinions on government. Or we could have someone we choose who could help to change our society for the better. Democracy is something we need to have more of in our workplaces, in our communities. But it’s vital we have a democratically elected Head of State.

So I wish the Queen a happy retirement, and I’ll be working hard for an elected replacement. A president like Mary Robinson or Michael D. Higgins will make a much greater difference than Prince Charles ever could. It’s time to put democracy at the heart of our state.

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