Queen Elizabeth begins her last trip to Scotland

Queen Elizabeth II receives a bouquet of flowers from Charlotte Murphy during a visit to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force 603 Squadron headquarters July 4, 2015 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Danny Lawson/WPA Pool/Getty Images)

When Scots went to the polls to vote for independence from the UK in September 2014, the Queen’s role came under intense scrutiny.

At the time, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond promised that if voters backed the 300-plus-year exit from the Union, Elizabeth II would remain ‘Queen of Scots’.

Polls at the time suggested Salmond accurately gauged the Queen’s popular mood – 52% wanted to keep her. The question was moot, however, as Salmond miscalculated Scotland’s mood on independence, which was rejected by 55% to 45%.

Among the many lessons from IndyRef 2014 in Scotland, one solid conclusion was that the Queen was not directly part of the problem.

In Northern Ireland, however, for much of his reign the opposite was true.

The bloody 30 years of violence known as ‘The Troubles’ pitted British unionists against Irish nationalists, with the British crown emblematic of all that divided the province.

Unionists are loyal to the Crown and the traditional British values ​​they believe it enshrines. For Irish nationalists, it is the symbol of the British forces that subjugated their ancestors and annexed their land.

Charles’s favorite great-uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last British Viceroy in India, was murdered by Irish Republicans along with several of his grandchildren. The message to the monarch was unequivocal: his lineage was legitimate targets.

Her public response came many years later, during a visit to Northern Ireland in 2012 following the relative peace brought by the Good Friday Agreement, when she shook hands with one of the Republicans most associated with the groups behind the violence of the past, Martin McGuiness.

The fact that government officials recommended that he take McGuinness’s hand is a testament to his power over all things Union. It is not the Union, but a symbol of it. The Irish nationalist republicans of McGuinness had reluctantly ended their “armed struggle” and remained, for the time being, inside the Union.

So to think that Queen Elizabeth has little relevance to today’s Union would be to misinterpret her reign.

She was a unifying force, wielding her soft power with delicacy and discretion for the sole purpose of holding together the Union and the remnants of the Empire, the Commonwealth.

Read the full story:

How the Queen's soft power helped keep the UK together

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