A whiff of rebellion greets the royals

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The Independent Online
A WHIFF of rebellion filled the Scottish Parliament yesterday as the entire house unexpectedly sang a verse of Robert Burns' anti-royal ballad "A man's a man for a' that". The Queen, there to open the parliament, looked at her feet silently.

The Prince of Wales and the Duke of Edinburgh, also there for the historic opening, fidgeted with their programmes during a song that praises ordinary men over "Yon birkie ca'd 'a lord'/Wha struts an stares, an a' that". Aside from this outburst of feeling, everyone tried to behave well. The atmosphere among MSPs, several kilted or in tartan suits, was celebratory. Only one, Tommy Sheridan, of the Scottish Socialists, called, while boycotting the ceremony, for abolition of the monarchy. A number of Irish republicans protesting about the forthcoming Orange Order marches tried but failed to break through the Household Cavalry protecting the Queen.

In a separate incident, two people were later arrested after trying to set alight a Union flag. Elsewhere, students threw eggs at soldiers in protest at university tuition fees.

For their part, the royal visitors tried to be sensitive to Scottish feelings.

The Queen dressed down in a purple coat, inspired by the Scottish thistle, with plaid from the Isle of Skye over one shoulder. The National Anthem, played once inside the Palace of Holyroodhouse as her carriage set off, was not heard again. Her 16th-century Scottish crown, carried from Edinburgh Castle, sat on a table, not her head.

In her opening speech the Queen, whose mother's family provides chiefs for the Clan Lyon, praised the "grit, determination and humour, the forthrightness and above all the strong sense of identity of the Scottish people."

She added: "I have trust in the good judgement of the Scottish people; I have faith in your commitment to their service. I am confident in the future of Scotland."

Yet the tension between England and Scotland that remain unresolved by this parliament kept surfacing. People remarked that Edinburgh Castle, from where the crown was conveyed, is garrisoned by an English regiment for the first time in living memory.

And many spotted the irony that the Duke of Hamilton, who carried the crown to the ceremony, is a direct descendant of a duke who successfully plotted with London to close down Scotland's last parliament nearly 300 years ago.

Meanwhile, instead of the white heather (a Scottish symbol of good luck) worn by other MSPs, nationalists sported the white rose, marking their republicanism. Scotland's First Minister, Donald Dewar, as though liberated by the unexpected absence of Tony Blair, peacemaking in Northern Ireland, made one of his most nationalist speeches.

Instead of chorusing Labour's traditional view that the parliament settles the national question, Mr Dewar, recalling the battles of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace, said: "A Scottish Parliament. This is not an end but a means to greater ends." His oblique language was almost identical to that used by Alex Salmond, leader of the separatist SNP.

A poem entitled "How to Make a Great Country", by 11-year old Amy Linekar, was read out in the Parliament, suggesting the complexities of Scottishness.

It began: "Take several heroic battles/Some kilts of tartan fine, a clearance's worth of emigration, a thistle's worth of spike, and a rebellion or two ... fold in gently an Edinburgh festival, with all trimmings/A football match between greens and blues/A sleekit, cow'rin' tim'rous beastie by Rabbie Burns".

The burden of history, politics and cultural confusion was lifted by the carnival atmosphere in Edinburgh, where a Concorde, accompanied by Red Arrows, flew above Princes Street, the main thoroughfare, trailing blue and white smoke. Although Mr Dewar refused to declare a holiday, and children were at school, there was a children's procession through the city.

"I wanted my son to see this and remember it," said Rainey McIntosh, as she raised four- year-old Harvey above the crowds to watch the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders pass by. "The pipes always make me emotional and proud."

A ceilidh late into the night led to a spectacular finale of fireworks. The Queen, tactful as ever, missed out on what was advertised as The Big Hooley. She was safely back in her palace.