By James M. Perry
"I hope everyone thinks carefully about the (independence) referendum this week," Queen Elizabeth II said the other day.
Her comment doesn't mean the queen is taking sides, Alex Salmond, leader of the Scottish National Party, said.
Not officially, maybe, but everyone knows where the queen stands. She doesn't want to break up a union that's lasted for 307 years. Losing Scotland would mean that the British monarchy, which once ruled what's now the United States, and India and Canada and Australia and New Zealand, would be left with England and Wales and Northern Ireland.
Unthinkable. But polls, most of them not very reliable, show that Scotland's 4.3 million registered voters are very closely divided on whether to say yes (for independence) or no (for staying with the union).
Putting aside the really big questions of what happens to Britain without Scotland in the European Union and what happens to the two economies, think for a moment of historical and cultural changes.
The largest regiment in the British army is, of all things, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. Famous old Scottish regiments have been downsized and assigned to the Royal Regiment as battalions. The Black Watch, for example, is now the regiment's 3d battalion, with its headquarters and brand-new museum at Balhousie Castle in Perth. Other old Scottish line regiments, now battalions, are based in Edinburgh, Penicuik, and Glasgow. The Queen is the regiment's colonel-in-chief. The mascot is Lance Corporal Cruachan IV, a Shetland pony.
This, of course, is all heavily Scottish. Troops are recruited and trained in Scotland (will an independent Scotland allow that?) The band plays familiar Scottish airs. From time to time, the troops even parade in kilts.
Will all this survive a break-up of the union?
What would happen to Balmoral Castle, a private fiefdom covering 50,000 acres (and as many as 150 separate properties) in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, a royal playground since Victoria and Albert? It's a 19th Century castle, and not very pretty, but Victoria loved it and this queen and her family seem to love it too. The royal family runs the place (though it's actually owned by a trust, employing 150 full and part-time employes.) There's even a malt distillery on the grounds.
Following Albert's death in1861, Victoria became a regular visitor, spending up to four months at Balmoral in the summers. It was during this time of mourning that she met and became enamored of John Brown, one of the estate's ghillies (a kind of gameskeeper). Writers and movie directors are still trying to make something of it.
Will the royal family really want to come back to Balmoral, if it's in a different country?
Every year, it seems, the queen spends a week in Edinburgh, Scotland's grand old city. She stays when she's there at Holyrood Palace, founded by David I, King of Scots, in 1128 and still owned by the crown. The palace contains the state apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, who lived there in the 16th Century. Elizabeth entertains her subjects and holds a number of garden parties when she's in residence.
Independence would put an end to that.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, is contributing regular observations for post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.