Outburst of collective loyalty at Jubilee debate

A debate at Holyrood today anent Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee.

That is using the word "debate" in its loose, contemporary meaning of "an outburst of collective loyalty".

Was that a catch in Ruth Davidson's voice as she concluded her panegyric to Her Majesty? I think it was.

Perhaps she had in her mind's eye the Union Flag bunting and cheerful Royal image which now adorn the Tory corridor in Parliament, in preparation for this weekend's celebrations.

Was it entirely accidental that a visiting party of school children were ushered out of the public gallery by a watchful teacher just as Patrick Harvie of the Greens stood to speak?

No doubt it was. But they missed thereby the chance to hear the only dissenting voice which chose to join the debate - briefly, as counselled by the presiding officer.

Mr Harvie had tabled an amendment to the congratulatory motion extending such praise from "Mrs Windsor" (his phrase) to public sector workers who, he said, worked equally hard without comparable reward. (His amendment was not selected.)

But still this was no stern republican lecture.

Indeed, Mr Harvie was at pains to stress that he joined in the acclaim for Her Majesty. All he wanted was to instigate a debate as to the future head of state in an independent Scotland.

The principal advocate of that policy of independence - one A. Salmond - smiled benignly on his Yes Scotland buddy.

But the first minister's own speech was a litany of praise for the remarkable endeavour of the present incumbent; her "dedication, impartiality and service".

She had, he said, been a "particular friend of Scotland."

Mr Salmond announced a series of gifts from the Scottish people - modest in keeping with the Queen's wishes.

They include a new public garden at Holyrood Palace, a donation to Veterans Scotland and an app highlighting the most significant events of the Queen's reign in Scotland.

It was a thoughtful, well-crafted speech: entirely laudatory and deliberately free from any nod in the direction of those, including within the SNP, who might question the institution of monarchy.

There were, of course, careful references to the Nationalist perspective.

Mr Salmond recalled that her majesty had played a leading role at Holyrood since the Scottish Parliament had been "reconvened" - the telling phrase used on the opening day by Winnie Ewing, reflecting a continuity of political history, dating back pre-Union.

And, most notably, he called her Majesty "Elizabeth, Queen of Scots" - the phrase regularly used by, among others, George Reid when he was presiding officer.

Historical debate

Again, it is a phrase which reflects Scottish usage and a traditional Scottish view of monarchy as being in partnership with people who are citizens, not simply subjects.

In her speech, also laudatory, Labour's Johann Lamont spoke of "Queen Elizabeth the Second" - vaunting her both as a monarch and a strong woman.

Ms Davidson used the same term, frequently. This features a different form of pre-Union continuity, linking the present monarch, numerically at least, with her namesake, the sovereign Queen of England.

For the Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie obviated this subterranean historical debate by referring to Her Majesty simply as "Queen Elizabeth". No number, no nation.

By contrast with the others, Mr Rennie's speech was notably casual and understated.

Some, he averred, might think it was top notch being Queen, what with palaces and jewellery.

But her life was not her own, he argued. If she found an event tedious, she couldn't nip off for a cup of tea - unlike politicians.

There speaks a man who has attended just one too many Liberal Democrat policy meeting.