Affairs of state

ROYAL WEEK in Edinburgh and the Signet Library was at the heart of proceedings, playing host to HM The Queen, accompanied by Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince William, The Duke of Cambridge and Princess Anne, The Princess Royal, and other members of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. The Order is the highest order of chivalry in Scotland the occasion was the Order’s biennial Thistle Service at St Giles Cathedral. From early morning the Signet Library is a hive of activity as dressers from Ede & Ravenscroft set out the splendid costume of each Knight of the Thistle in the main salon of the lower library. A table is set aside for each Knight’s regalia: a green robe lined with white taffeta and tied with green and gold tassels; the star of the Order, worn on the left shoulder of the robe, depicting St Andrew, gold rays of glory around his head, wearing a green gown and purple coat holding a white star; a hat of black velvet with white feathers with a black egret or heron's top in the middle; and collar of gold depicting thistles and sprigs of rue, worn over the mantle. Amongst this ancient symbolism move the trappings of the modern state: press officers, photographers, military personnel, courtiers, Special Branch, police and, of course, sniffer dogs. The chink of glasses can be heard as catering staff set up for the drinks reception that takes place after the service. The Minister of St Giles, the Reverend Calum MacLeod, welcomed the congregation with a reminder of the historical significance of the place:

“Here John Knox confronted Mary Queen of Scots; here James VI argued about liturgy; here Oliver Cromwell preached. Here Parliament sometimes met. Here the Stone of Destiny rested on its return and here our Queen received the Honours of Scotland”.

The choir of St Giles’ sang most beautifully the work “Blessing” by the contemporary Welsh composer Paul Mealor. On returning to the Signet Library, Her Majesty was received by the Deputy Keeper of the Signet, Caroline Docherty WS, before signing the WS Society’s visitors’ book, the same one that the Queen signed for the first time on this occasion in 1953. Prince Philip joked that he hated signing with "a nib" pen but the WS Society’s fountain pen performed the job admirably. Princess Anne quipped that she had brought her own gold pen which indeed she had. Legal figures were much in evidence. The Keeper of the Signet, Lord Mackay of Clashsfern, Lord Hope of Craighead (former Deputy President of the UK Supreme Court) and Lord Cullen of Whitekirk (former Lord President) are Knights of the Thistle. The Lord Lyon King of Arms, Dr Joseph Morrow QC, was in attendance along with the heraldic officers, including Adam Bruce WS and John Stirling WS. This is truly one of Scotland’s magnificent royal occasions and one in which the WS Society and the Signet Library have played a part for as long as anyone can remember. There is timelessness about such occasions, the same ritual and symbolism repeated from generation to generation. Continuity in changing times.

— Oliver Letwin, HM Government’s Brexit unit

CONSTITUTIONAL ISSUES continue to dominate the news in the wake of the EU referendum vote to leave the EU. The Conservative government’s Brexit "crack unit" is to be headed by Oliver Letwin. It was put to the Cabinet minister at the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that he’d been left to "hold the baby". Never one to shy from a metaphor, Letwin responded: “I can only say that the baby is being firmly held, and that my intention is that the baby should prosper, because I care about the baby in question. The baby is, in fact, our country”. Not everyone is convinced that the baby won't be lost with the bath water. The litter bins of St James Park will shortly be full of discarded Brexit "option papers". Letwin asserted this week that the royal prerogative could be used to invoke article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon to trigger two years’ notice of the UK’s exit from the EU. He said this was “academic” because Parliament would have to vote to repeal the European Communities Act 1972, glossing over that such a vote would only be required two years after the notice had been given. Meantime, law firm Mishcon de Reya is first out of the traps with a court action asserting the contrary view that a vote of Parliament would be required to approve giving notice under article 50. Legal experts have also asserted that an article 50 notice once given could later be rescinded by the UK so giving notice does not of itself guarantee that Brexit will happen.

SCOTLAND’S FIRST MINISTER Nicola Sturgeon MSP this week invited EU diplomatic representatives to Bute House in Charlotte Square to discuss how the Scottish government could provide further reassurance to all EU citizens living in Scotland. The First Minister said it was "inhumane" of the UK government not to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in Scotland to remain following the Brexit vote. She insisted that EU citizens who had come to the UK to make their lives here should not be treated as “a negotiating chip in a wider discussion with Europe" and pointed out that Britons living in the EU also faced an uncertain future. The EU diplomats included two Writers to the Signet, James Rust WS (Morton Fraser), and honorary consul of Portugal, and Frank Gill WS (Kennedys Scotland), honorary consul of the Netherlands.

THE NEXT PRIME MINISTER will be a woman, we learned this week. Theresa May and Andrea Leadsom are the two candidates who have made it to the final round of voting among the Conservative Party’s membership. Much press coverage this week focused on Leadson’s CV with suggestions that she had not been wholly accurate about job titles and responsibilities. At her press conference to launch her campaign, posters gave her name as “AndREALeadson” to emphasise her alleged credentials as an outsider of the political “establishment”. Political blogger Guido Fawkes suggested “AndreaMISLEADsome” might be more appropriate. Former party chairman Grant Shapps was the last prominent Conservative to have his record in business questioned and, coincidentally, his Wikipedia entry, like Leadson's, was the subject of contested editing. Shapps and Leadson both deny being involved. Kenneth Clark was entertainingly caught unawares on Sky News, referring to May as “a bloody difficult woman” which has been widely interpreted as a compliment. Meanwhile, no sign yet of an election contest for the leader of the official opposition as Jeremy Corbyn continues to assert his "mandate" from the Labour party membership despite a vote of no confidence from his parliamentary colleagues. 

RECENT EVENTS are being described as “revolutionary” in British politics. History always provides a welcome perspective as with Netflix’s account of the 20th century’s most photogenic rebellion in “Cuba: The Forgotten Revolution”. The documentary examines the role of revolutionaries Frank Pais and Jose Antonio Echeverria in overthrowing the repressive dictator Fulgencio Batista. Both men were overlooked in the popular history of the revolution but played a critical role in urban civil protest and died for their political beliefs. Either could have become the leader of the revolution but a dapper young lawyer, Fidel Castro, and a bohemian Argentinean doctor, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, were destined for power and immortality respectively. Castro was more successful as a revolutionary leader than he ever was as a lawyer. His law firm failed to pay its bills, had its furniture re-possessed and electricity cut off. This distressed his rich wife, Mirta, whose father had given them thousands of dollars to spend on a three month New York City honeymoon. The combat fatigues came later.

— “Writer”

Writer's Week is not intended to represent the views of the WS Society or its members.