A deep and abiding affection

Opening Holyrood for the first time without Prince Philip, the Queen finds solace in their shared loved of Scotland.

She stepped from the royal car and the throngs greeted her with cheers and whoops.

The Queen, handsomely turned out in a cosy-looking emerald coat and hat combo, allowed a smile to break across her face. A fleeting glimmer danced across her breast.

The official opening of the Scottish Parliament was her first major engagement north of the border since the passing of Prince Philip. Behind her trailed the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay, Charles kilted in Bonnie Prince Charlie tartan and Camilla sporting a moss-green overcoat with candy-red piping.

They were led over to Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone and her SNP deputy Annabel Ewing, who bowed to all three members of the Royal Family. Such occasions bring out the traditionalist in the unlikeliest people.

Inside, Nicola Sturgeon waited with other party leaders. Douglas Ross was all done up in kilt (MacKenzie tartan) and Highland finery and looked like he was on his way to an auntie’s wedding. If he tugged awkwardly at his sleeve one more time, his mammy was going to pop up behind him and skelp his lug.

Anas Sarwar, Lorna Slater and Alex Cole-Hamilton joked. Unaware their microphones were live, they teased the Lib Dem leader. ‘You look more like Justin Bieber than Justin Trudeau,’ Sarwar quipped.

I say 'Lib Dem leader' but there was some confusion about that. When Her Majesty came down the line, Johnstone introduced Slater as co-leader of the Greens then moved onto Cole-Hamilton. Likely briefed on the party’s joint leadership, the Queen asked if he too was from the Greens.

‘No, Liberal Democrats. I’m the leader. I’ve just been elected.’ No doubt he'll be able to laugh about it one day, when someone off River City is playing him in season 11 of The Crown.

Her entrance could have gone worse. She could have needed a vaccine passport. Getting the Scottish app to recognise her as Elizabeth II would only have been the start of her problems.

Trumpeted into the chamber, the Queen was welcomed by the Presiding Officer in English, Gaelic and sign language. Johnstone, a bonny heather brooch accenting a porcelain blazer, gave a fine, ecumenical speech mirroring much of what the monarch would later say.

She spoke of how Covid-19 ‘brought out the best of humanity' and urged MSPs to rise above bitterness. ‘It is possible for people with different views to have a constructive debate,’ she said. ‘We can disagree without being divisive.’

When the Sovereign rose, we were afforded a better glimpse of her lapel bling: an elegant diamond thistle, inherited from Queen Mary and which Her Majesty, after the fashion of her grandmother, typically reserves for public engagements in Scotland.

She began by praising Johnstone as 'a strong advocate for the parliament' and commending her 'fairness, respect and impartiality'.

The monarch agreed that 'hope and optimism' had come out of Covid and observed that 'the Scottish Parliament has been at the heart of Scotland's response'. 'People across this country' had been 'looking to you for leadership and stewardship' and she hoped 'you will remain at the forefront as we move towards a phase of recovery'.

Hmmm.

She recounted 'my deep and abiding affection for this wonderful country' and 'the many happy memories Prince Philip and I held of our time here'.

'It is the people that make a place and there are few places where this is truer than in Scotland,' she added.

Oh.

This was 'a time for renewal and fresh thinking', when, come COP26, 'the eyes of the world will be on the United Kingdom and Scotland in particular'. There was, she remarked, 'a key role for the Scottish Parliament'.

Ah.

By now my eyebrow was so arched it resembled a caterpillar doing gymnastics. The Queen couldn't have love-bombed the Scots more thoroughly if she'd had a squadron of Typhoons carpet Glasgow in heart-shaped envelops with £50 notes inside.

Noting the absence of the Duke of Edinburgh, Sturgeon expressed 'our deep sympathy and sorrow at your loss'. Weaving around the speeches were musical performances traditional and modern by Scots native and new. A young pianist's haunting rendition of ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ seemed apt for a queen without her consort of seven decades.

Ae fond kiss, and then we sever

Ae fareweel, alas, forever.


Originally published in the Scottish Mail on Sunday on October 3, 2021.

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