Sturgeon: Republican or Royalist?

Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the Queen. Credit: ITV Border

It has been suggested Nicola Sturgeon is less enthusiastic about the Monarchy than her predecessor Alex Salmond became, particularly in the run-up to the independence referendum.

On today's evidence at least, that suggestion does not hold water. If she ever was a republican, or had republican sympathies - and her staff say she never was and never did - they are long gone.

The First Minister today praised Queen Elizabeth in glowing terms, joining politicians from other parties across the UK in doing so.

At the opening of the Borders railway Ms Sturgeon put it thus:

It was deferential right down to the capitals 'S' and 'H' in the text of the speech put out by the First Minister's office.

If there was any slight hint of rebellion from the First Minister today then it was seen when Ms Sturgeon met the Queen.

She bowed, but did not curtsy. Next stop a republican revolutionary! Not.

There is, of course, a reason for all of this. In the run up to the independence referendum the SNP was adamant that the Queen would remain head of state in independent Scotland.

But there is more to it than that. Ms Sturgeon is nothing if not a pragmatist and knows that the Monarchy is still a popular institution in Scotland.

Polling guru Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University says that Scots are moderately less enamoured of the Monarchy, but there is not much in it.

In response to the question:

"... do you agree or disagree with each of the following? ...Britain should keep the monarchy..."

The Panelbase polling company found 65% in Scotland agreed while in England and Wales the figure was 75%.

Although the SNP has a strong republican tradition - cabinet member Roseanna Cunningham was known as 'republican Rose' in her political youth and has not changed her mind on Royalty - the leadership has not wanted to go against popular opinion.

Why would you, when you have other objectives, more important to you. Like independence for example.

I’m also told that relations between Ms Sturgeon and the Queen a very good at a personal level.

The First Minister was a guest of Her Majesty at her Balmoral home in the Highlands earlier this week.

There are those who would argue that this shows that a radical, left-of-centre, politician like Ms Sturgeon has been sucked into the establishment.

That, the critics say, is how the establishment - and the Monarchy in particular - works and has done over decades. They take radicals and slowly lure them in.

It's not an argument Ms Sturgeon or her team would accept. They'd say she remains true to her principles, and her radicalism.

There are also those in the SNP who might, privately at least, dislike the idea of their First Minister cosying up to the Royals over a Balmoral barbecue.

The Queen has always tried to avoid becoming embroiled in politics but she did appear to intervene in the independence referendum this time last year.

She told a well-wisher outside Crathie Kirk near Balmoral “I hope people will think very carefully about the future.”

Some interpreted that as a subtle hint that the Queen did not support independence.

That was an interpretation Yes supporters strongly denied in public though some do privately think it was a hint that the Monarch wanted a 'No'vote.

What can we conclude from this? First the the Monarchy is indeed very good at adapting to political circumstance, including to the creation of a Scottish parliament and the rise of the SNP.

Second, that the First Minister and her predecessor were canny enough to adapt to the reality of the existence and popularity of the Monarchy, or at least the current Monarch.

And if you needed further proof of that all you need to know is that the First Minister today joined in singing the UK national anthem.

God save the Queen indeed.