Are Scots keen on the new royal baby? Och aye.

While the nation is voting on independence next year, the British royals retain strong Scottish ties.

By , Correspondent

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    Balmoral Castle, near Ballater in the Scottish Highlands, is seen in August 2002. The castle, owned by Queen Elizabeth, is one of many connections that the royal family retains in the Scottish nation.
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Within hours of his birth and while the world laid bets on what he would be called, Scotland bestowed a name on the tiny heir to the British throne.

“Kate gives birth to a son, the Master of Strathearn,” trumpeted The Herald, a Scottish newspaper, alluding to the Scottish titles – Earl and Countess of Strathearn – that Prince William and Kate Middleton took after their marriage. Strathearn is a lovely area of Scotland that stretches from its central Lowlands to the Highlands.

Despite a surging secessionist movement – next year, Scots vote on whether they wish to remain part of the three centuries-old union with England – Scotland has strong ties to the royal family.

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Indeed, while the Scottish independence movement has often argued its case by citing ancient battles with English monarchs, the first minister, Alex Salmond, has nodded to popular opinion by convincing his party, the SNP (Scottish National Party), that an independent Scotland should retain the Crown, with the monarch as head of state.

In Carradale, a remote village on Scotland’s beautiful west coast, it was hard to find much republican feeling on the day the probable future king was born.

“Oh, but it is happy news”, said Mary Macmillan, a retired midwife in Carradale. “It makes a change from all the usual doom and gloom”.

Hers was typical of views expressed in a straw poll of Scots in the village, which attracts holidaymakers from all over Scotland in the summer: warm, enthusiastic; but fairly low-key in comparison with some of the more jubilant responses south of the border.

“The Scots’ interest in the monarchy is much more understated than in England, but that does mean it is not there,” says Roddy Martine, a writer and author of “A Royal Tradition – the Queen and Her Family in Scotland.”

Historic vote

Next year, Scotland’s 5 million-strong population will take a historic vote on whether the country should separate from its larger neighbor.

The SNP, which won a surprise landslide victory in 2011, argues that the British Parliament, where members representing Scotland are a small minority because England has a much larger population, does not have the interests of the Scottish people at heart.

The Scottish Parliament, which was established in 1999, has limited powers in areas like health and education, but the British Parliament in London still exercises control over important government spending decisions and areas including defense.

In London, the three biggest political parties are united in a campaign to keep the union together.

While polls suggest only a third of Scots want independence, many believe that devolution – giving Scotland its own parliament – set Scotland on a path that is likely, in time, to end with independence.

“It’s like putting a snowball on top of a hill and watching it gain momentum,” says Mr. Martine.

The royal family is anxious that should not happen.

“The current monarch has witnessed the loss of an empire,” says James Mitchell, professor of politics at Strathclyde University. “She will not want to go down in history as having lost Scotland as well.”

Strengthening ties

The monarchy has been a crucial link in the union between Scotland and England, and the queen is believed to want to reinforce that bond.

Since Queen Victoria, who adored Scotland, bought Balmoral Castle, a majestic structure with 50,000 acres of pine-dotted woodland in the Scottish Highlands, Britain’s monarchs have spent their summer holidays at the estate.

“She’s coming up to Balmoral on Friday,” says Ms. Macmillan, the Carradale midwife, as if the queen were an oft-visiting relative.

The monarch’s other Scottish dates include Holyrood Week, when the queen gives a garden party at her official Scottish residence, the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, and the annual Braemar gathering, Scotland’s most famous Highland Games.  

Other links point to the royal family’s efforts to keep the Scottish connection alive. The Royal Yacht Britannia, which was taken out of service in 1994, is now docked in Edinburgh. Several members of the royal family were educated at Gordonstoun, a Scottish school. Zara Philips, the daughter of Princess Anne, chose, like her mother, to be married in Scotland.

But commentators say that while Princess Anne, who is a passionate supporter of the Scottish rugby team, and her brother Prince Charles both spend several weeks a year in Scotland, there is a growing perception that the younger royals should visit more often.

Though William and Kate went to university in Scotland, that does not quite tick the box because many Scots view their university, St. Andrews, as having been colonized by wealthy English.

“It would be nice to see William and Kate doing more events in Scotland,” says Martine.

In June, the queen awarded Prince William with the Order of the Thistle, the highest honor in Scotland, which formally connects the second in line to the throne to Scotland.

It is unlikely that the timing of this, a year before the Scottish referendum, was a coincidence.

Nor is the timing of the vote, which will take place during the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, when Robert the Bruce vanquished an English army led by Edward II – the decisive battle in the first Scottish war of independence.

Even if, as seems likely, Scots will vote next year not to secede, the issue is unlikely to go away as the heir to the throne grows up.

“The new successor to the throne may one day face head on a task that has never deeply troubled any recent occupant of it,” wrote commentator Michael Fry in the Scotsman on Tuesday: “how to reforge the relationship between Scotland and its monarch.”

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