One of the favourite tactics of the No campaign as the referendum approached was to portray their opponents as utterly paranoid - there was much mirth, for example, about the plans of some Yes voters to take their own pens with them to the polling station in case their votes were erased. But as the saying goes, "just because you're paranoid it doesn't mean they're not out to get you", and the evidence just continues to mount that the London establishment (political, media, business, you name it) flagrantly bent and breached the rules of the democratic process at their leisure to get the result they required in September.
With the benefit of hindsight, I may even have been a bit naive about just how far they were prepared to go. When the media made a huge song and dance about a supposed "intervention" from the Queen that seemed to consist of nothing more than her being casually overheard to say to a member of the public that she hoped voters would think carefully about the big decision ahead of them, my reaction was this : Oh, come off it. The Queen is probably anti-independence in private, and that has perhaps unwittingly shone through in the tone of her remark. But she wasn't consciously saying anything at all, and she didn't expect to be overheard anyway.
If the Guardian is to be believed, and it probably should be because its sources seem plentiful and credible, the polar opposite is true. It seems our unelected Head of State breached her clear and solemn duty to remain politically neutral, and consciously colluded with the UK government to set up a little scene that was intended to be helpful for the No campaign. In retrospect, it should have been obvious that was what had happened, because the media's breathless reaction was an integral part of the whole pre-scripted drama (in a similar way to an earlier incident when Nick Robinson dutifully asked Barack Obama the question he had been told by Cameron's minions to ask). If News at Ten is telling you that the Queen has "intervened" and that the London government is "delighted" about it, it's because journalists have been tipped the wink that these things don't happen by accident. Of course, what those journalists should then do is react with moral outrage, offer full disclosure to their viewers and listeners, and use their investigative skills to work out what the hell is going on and whose heads will roll as a result. But they don't do that, because the London-based broadcast media, just like the London-based civil service, see themselves as being "on holiday" from their duty of impartiality, and are enjoying being part of a collective establishment effort to "save the union". (Don't be surprised if, just like their civil service counterparts, they eventually receive a trophy for their sterling efforts at a glittering awards ceremony.) So they instead credulously report on how the Queen has intervened on behalf of the No campaign, and somehow done so in a completely impartial way that is entirely befitting of her office.
Even the Guardian's report today maintains that ludicrous doublethink, insisting there was a "determination to ensure [the Queen] did not cross a line". Look, guys, if you've established that there was a clear and conscious intent to intervene and to have a direct impact on the referendum result, then it doesn't matter a damn what the nature of that intervention was and what exact words were used. The line has been crossed, the constitutional duty has been breached. And, needless to say, this is a two-way street - it was just as outrageous for the London government to ask the Queen to breach her duty of impartiality as it was for the Queen to agree.
It looks very much like the Queen's 'off-the-cuff' comment was scripted for her by the No campaign, and that she was fully aware that she was being overheard and would be interpreted in the 'correct' way. What we don't seem to know yet is whether the well-wisher who asked her the question in the first place was a Better Together plant, but logically we must conclude that was probably the case. That would have seemed paranoid beyond belief if anyone had suggested it at the time, even as a vague possibility. But every day is an education in post-referendum North Britain.
The SNP leadership will of course defend the Queen to the hilt over this. They'll either try to shut down the story completely, or will place the blame for any wrongdoing squarely with the London government. That's an astute thing to do, because any Scottish government has to be on the same page as the majority of the Scottish population (albeit perhaps not an overwhelming majority) in assuming the Royal Family's good intentions. But that shouldn't stop the rest of us speaking truth about an appalling abuse of privilege.
Alistair Davidson penned a thoughtful piece on Bella Caledonia yesterday in which he suggested that the No campaign under Blair McDougall had been tactically brilliant in identifying courses of action that would help them to narrowly win in the short-term, but had been strategically hopeless in failing to spot that what they were doing would destroy their cause in the longer-term. That same verdict could easily apply to the whole London establishment, who couldn't seem to see past September 18th, and still can't. How else do we explain the bizarre spectacle of the civil service patting themselves on the back in public about conduct during the referendum that they freely admit was "very close" to being inappropriate? Haven't they seen the opinion polls recently?
The monarchy's short-sightedness is even more inexplicable, because unlike other London institutions it would have survived in Scotland, and quite possibly thrived, after independence. But it seems that wasn't enough for them, and that the Queen simply had to be this country's Head of State in the way that she is accustomed to. That irrational conservatism has led her to take a step that may have poisoned the goodwill that some Yes voters felt towards her, and may as a result make it somewhat less likely that Scotland will retain the monarchy for very long if it becomes independent in future. Hey-ho.