She had just joined in a prayer to “save us from false choices”, but the Queen’s intervention on the referendum on Sunday was not inspired by anything divine. Instead, it bore all the hallmarks of a premeditated and carefully orchestrated piece of media management by Her Majesty to plead with Scots to stay in the Union.
The Queen’s comment to a member of the public, making clear that Scots should think “very carefully” before they vote, was not an unguarded aside. It was made in the full knowledge that it would be picked up by the media and would make front page news.
The Sovereign was aware that her visit to Crathie Kirk could be her last appearance in public as Queen of the United Kingdom and she was not going to let the occasion pass her by.
The Duke of Edinburgh, whether through choice or on orders from Her Majesty, wore a kilt to church, which is almost unheard of and which reminded Scots of their 300-year-old ties with the British monarchy.
After the service was over the Queen stopped to chat to some of the 40-odd royal-watchers who had gathered outside.
The Rev Ken MacKenzie, the minister at Crathie Kirk, said this was “a really quite unusual thing for her to do”. Equally unusual was the curiously accommodating behaviour of the police sergeant on duty at Crathie, who invited the press to get close enough to record the moment.
Reporters and photographers are usually kept 200 yards from the church by the police and Donald Stewart, an experienced photographer who covers royal visits to Balmoral, said the last time he could remember being “invited up” to photograph the Royal family walking out of the building was on the first wedding anniversary of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall in 2006. He described the invitation as a “once or twice in a generation” event.
The Queen knows full well that when she speaks to members of the public, reporters will speak to them afterwards to find out what she said. Only by making sure the reporters were close enough to see her chatting about the referendum could she be sure her comments would be picked up.
Back in London, her “spontaneous” remarks about the referendum took her courtiers completely by surprise and drove a State Coach and horses through the “official” Buckingham Palace line that Her Majesty is totally impartial on the matter of Scottish independence.
Her press secretaries tried their best to spin the comment as proof of her neutrality, and repeated the mantra that “the Queen regards the referendum as entirely a matter for the Scottish people”.
In an attempt to persuade me of this, one senior courtier told me, “The Queen, being the most experienced of the lot, knows where to draw the line.”
And that is exactly the point. With 62 years of experience, the Queen does know where the line is, and she will also have known that her choice of words meant she stepped beyond it.
The Queen simply does not make such comments by accident, and when the Head of State of the United Kingdom urges people to think “carefully” about their vote, what other conclusion are we to draw than that she is concerned the Scots will take a rash step into the unknown by voting Yes? After all, a No vote is a vote to preserve the status quo, and the Queen is hardly likely to advise Scots to be “careful” about leaving things the way they are.
Not that anyone who is in favour of retaining the Union will be complaining. As The Daily Telegraph reported exclusively last week, David Cameron was urged by some MPs to ask the Queen to state publicly her wish for the Union to be preserved.
The story led Buckingham Palace to take the highly unusual step of issuing a public statement setting out the impossibility of the Queen doing such a thing and urging politicians to back off.
Yet the suggestion that the Queen is entirely neutral on independence was never convincing. Nor was the argument that if the Queen expressed an opinion on the potential break-up of the Union, it would cause a constitutional crisis.
The Queen, after all, was crowned sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and she is perfectly entitled to speak up in defence of the United Kingdom.
We know this because she did just that in 1977, when talk of devolution was in the air, and when she reminded us of the “benefits which union has conferred... on the inhabitants of all parts of this United Kingdom”.
For a Head of State, speaking in defence of their country is not party politics. It is a right and, some would say, a duty.
© The Daily Telegraph