The Queen loved Scotland. Some worry her death could help the independence movement

·4 min read
A view of a flag flying at half mast at Balmoral Castle on Friday, following the passing of Queen Elizabeth in Balmoral, Scotland. The Queen had close ties to Scotland, and without her, the issue of independence may rise again. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters - image credit)
A view of a flag flying at half mast at Balmoral Castle on Friday, following the passing of Queen Elizabeth in Balmoral, Scotland. The Queen had close ties to Scotland, and without her, the issue of independence may rise again. (Russell Cheyne/Reuters - image credit)

The Queen spoke frequently and fondly of her connection to Scotland, but nowhere was that connection stronger than in the little village of Ballater, just down the road from Balmoral Castle where she died.

The blue and white colours of Scotland's flag flew at half-mast over the village high street on Friday.

"She was a wonderful person for this area. And I think she'll be sadly missed," said John Sinclair, one of the owners of Sheridan butchers.

The village is adorned with royal warrant seals, a mark of recognition to companies that have provided services or done business with the Royal Family, whose connection to the area stretches back to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. 

Russell Cheyne/Reuters
Russell Cheyne/Reuters

There's a seal above Sinclair's shop; another on the pharmacy across the street. "The buzz of the royals being in town and the business that it creates. I don't know if this will ever be seen again," Sinclair told CBC News.

"I actually made an order for the Royal Family yesterday and I was upset making the order up as I'm thinking to myself, well, this might be the last royal order we make in the shop. You know, you never know."

Lily Martin/CBC
Lily Martin/CBC

While there's no indication other members of the Royal Family, including King Charles, plan to scale back their visits to Balmoral, the Queen's presence in the area has been a constant going back decades. And without her, some wonder whether simmering questions of Scottish independence will rise again.

'Queen of Scots'

Famously, the Queen once posed at Balmoral wearing a robe embedded with the insignia of Order of the Thistle, Scotland's national Flower.

She, Prince Phillip and their children also usually spent several weeks every summer at the vast estate in the Scottish highlands — and Sinclair said the family often bought the sausages for their picnics from him.

"We used to make specialised sausages for their barbeques, and I know the Duke cooked them himself. The Queen would do the washing up after that. It was just a family day away from the castle. I think they really enjoyed that."

Lily Martin/CBC
Lily Martin/CBC

Since Thursday, Ballater has become the hub for those wanting to visit Balmoral and pay their respects.

The county of Aberdeenshire has been running shuttles from the village to the castle transporting thousands of people, most arriving at the castle's gates with flowers.

"It's a bit surreal really. You know, as in did it really happen?" said Gillian Engles, who's from Ballater. "We've lost the most elegant lady we could have hoped for."

Julian Calder Photograph
Julian Calder Photograph

Scots' relationship with the Royal family though is not without its complications. Many who support independence from the United Kingdom want to end the relationship with the monarchy as well, while other Scottish nationalists support the Royals.

That divergence of opinion was evident in Britain's parliament, Westminster, where one of the most emotional tributes came from Scottish nationalist MP Ian Blackford, who called her "Elizabeth Queen of Scots."

"People the length and breadth of Scotland have their own tales of their individual meetings with the Queen, because she was a monarch who reigned with compassion and integrity and established a deep connection with the public. And the affection which the Queen had for Scotland and Scotland had for the Queen cannot be underestimated," he told Parliament.

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

The independence question

Scotland's affection for Her Majesty's kingdom, however, has been subject to more debate — and this summer Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched her campaign for a second independence referendum, arguing Scotland would be better off outside the U.K.

In 2014, Scotland rejected independence in a referendum, with 55 per cent voting No. Then, the Queen uncharacteristically weighed in, saying she hoped voters would "think very carefully about the future."

This year, leading up to the Queen's record-breaking 70th year on the throne, a public opinion poll surveying attitudes toward the monarchy suggested 36 per cent believed her death should be the cue for Scotland to become a republic.

Charles, who's also an avid enthusiast of Scotland and its outdoors, is less popular than his mother and some fear that may ultimately weaken Scotland's commitment to the union.

Susan Forrester was among those laying flowers at Balmoral and downplayed suggestions her death would help the independence movement.

Chris Brown/CBC
Chris Brown/CBC

"I think there will always be some that weren't [admirers] but the majority were,"  she told CBC News.

"Hopefully there won't be too many changes," said Sinclair, the butcher. "I hope the monarchy stays the same as it is, and I hope they continue to visit Scotland."

WATCH | See Elizabeth go from princess to Queen:

The Queen's death in Scotland means there will likely be several extra steps in the elaborate funeral arrangements,  which are still being made.

Scottish newspapers are reporting her coffin will be taken to Edinburgh and there will be a formal procession to the city's historic St. Giles' Cathedral.  Her body is then expected to lay in state for 24 hours before being taken south to London.