This will be one for the conspiracy theorists. Two weeks before a vote on whether Scotland will remain inside the United Kingdom, and just days after a poll that shows the “yes” contingent catching up with those who want to stay, the British royal family on Monday announced that there will be a new royal baby, which could swing the vote back towards Scotland staying in the Union.
“Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are very pleased to announce that The Duchess of Cambridge is expecting their second child,” the announcement on Prince Charles’ website read. As part of the royal hierarchy, Prince Charles as the next in line for the throne from Queen Elizabeth II is dubbed the Prince of Wales, while Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton are granted the title of Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. “The Queen and members of both families are delighted with the news,” the announcement continued.
But thanks to an interesting bit of timing, already the unborn child finds itself in the middle of a fight for the future of the country it will one day likely help represent. “Congratulations & best wishes to the Earl & Countess of Strathearn,” tweet out Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond. “Wonderful to hear they’re expecting their second baby — very happy news!” While that would seem to be a rather simple message of congratulations, the fact that Salmond — who is the head of the Scottish National Party that currently dominates Scotland’s local parliament — used the traditional and rarely used Scottish titles for William and Kate shows just how much each side wants to affect the upcoming referendum on Scottish independence.
The Scottish National Party surged to victory in 2011 during the last vote for the Scottish Parliament based on the promise of holding the coming referendum. For the more than 300 years since King James I, the United Kingdom has held the power over Scotland, but a “yes” vote on independence could mean Scotland’s 5.3 million citizens are able to set their own policies for the first time since then. The attempts to keep Scotland in the Union has attracted a plethora of famous voices trying to sway the public, including a donation of £1 million from Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling to lobby against independence.
That influence can be seen in how volatile the polling over Scotland separating from the U.K. has become. Over the weekend, a poll from YouGov — conducted for both the Sunday Times and BuzzFeed — showed that “the nationalists have taken a two-point lead and are poised to triumph in the referendum on September 18.” Specifically, the new survey shows that 51 percent of those questioned want Scotland to become an independent country, while only 49 wanted to remain within the Union. This marks, as the Times noted, the demolition of a 22 point lead that the Better Together campaign — which has been urging a “no” vote on independence — had held in about a month.
But the as-of-yet-unnamed pending addition to the Royal Family could be just the boon needed to help turn back the tide against a surge of support for Scottish independence. Last year, William and Kate welcomed their first child — George — into the world amid a media blitz that even the media itself would later say was somewhat excessive. But George’s birth had some tangible benefits for the Windsor dynasty. A poll taken last year by British firm ComRes showed that since the wedding of the two young royals, and especially after the first appearance of Prince George, the popularity of the British Crown has skyrocketed. Beating out even the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics in terms of support, last year’s Royal Birth led to two-thirds of Britons supporting the monarchy.
That sort of popularity is something of a rarity among the residual monarchies of Europe, whose recent occupants have been resigning from the throne at a rapid pace. As of June, two kings and one queen had stepped down from power in a span of 18 months. In contrast, Queen Elizabeth has been ruling Great Britain since 1952.
The announcement of a new royal baby may not be enough to stanch the flow of support towards Scotland leaving the United Kingdom. But its likely that Scotland would remain within the Commonwealth, the group of states that while controlling their own governments still have Queen Elizabeth as their head of state. This would leave them, like Canada and other former British colonies, free to both enjoy a new royal and decide their own policies. What would be more impacted would be Scotland’s place in the international political and economic communities. An independent Scotland would have to apply for positions at the United Nations, NATO, and European Union, a case that would leave world powers struggling to decide whether to anger London by doing so. And in the first day of trading after the new YouGov poll was announced, the British pound tumbled to a ten month low. In response, Parliament prepared to “scramble to agree an offer of more powers to Scotland if it remains within the union in an effort to prevent a yes vote in next week’s referendum.”
So get to work, future Royal Child. The fate of a country may depend on you.