Nicola Sturgeon’s royal mistake could cost her electoral dominance AND second referendum
Royal insiders discuss Queen’s meeting with Boris Johnson
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The Heat Networks Bill encouraged the use of underground pipes to heat homes and buildings rather than fossil fuel-powered boilers. But the Bill put forward by SNP led-Scottish Government ministers was amended after the Queen’s lawyers raised “concerns”, with the changes exempting her land including Balmoral Castle from measures to encourage greener energy.
The exemption to the Heat Networks Bill meant land owned by the royal household could not be subject to compulsory purchase orders without the Queen’s approval.
The revelation was revealed in a Freedom of Information request by a Scottish Liberal Democrat researcher.
The documents also appeared to suggest the Scottish Government did not disclose the monarch’s lobbying during a recent Scottish Parliamentary debate after an MSP asked why the Queen was securing an exemption from the Bill.
The findings could cause “discomfort” amongst Scottish Green supporters and politicians, who are currently holding talks on a “formal cooperation agreement” and are propping up Ms Sturgeon’s pro-independence majority in Holyrood.
Although the agreement would stop short of a full coalition like Labour and the Lib Dems from 1999 to 2007 in Scotland, it could see Greens serving as ministers.
Any alliance would increase the prospects of a second independence bill passing through the Scottish Parliament as well as legislation for other key SNP policies.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Lib Dem leadership candidate and Edinburgh Western MSP, said: “I think the revelation will give pause for thought for nationalists across the political spectrum.
“It would cause particular discomfort for green supporters as they watch their MSPs prepare to walk down the aisle with a party of government so shrouded in secrecy on this matter.”
The lobbying to the legislation took place under the Royal Consent rule, which allows the Queen and Prince Charles to insist on personal exemptions from the law on legislation that affects the Crown’s interests.
Queen’s consent for the Heat Networks Bill was sought in January this year, the documents show, though the content of many exchanges was redacted.
In February, officials working for Energy Minister Paul Wheelhouse said the minister had agreed to amend the Bill, which was introduced to Holyrood in March 2020.
The officials said: “Minister agreed to proposed amendment that would addressed [sic] concerns from Queen’s solicitors”.
Setting out the need for the exemption in Parliament, Mr Wheelhouse said that in the rare cases where the Queen’s estate could be used for a heat network, different provisions were needed for the use of compulsory purchase orders on Her Majesty’s land.
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Willie Rennie said lobbying from the palace should have been declared by the Scottish Government.
The Fife MSP said: “It’s remarkable how much deference Nicola Sturgeon and her Government have given to the queen given how many in her party want to abolish the Monarchy entirely.
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“The research by the Scottish Liberal Democrats into the use of Queen’s Consent should promote an open and honest conversation about what this process is and how it should work in the future.”
Meanwhile, anti-monarchy campaigners have now called for an urgent inquiry into the use of the Royal Consent rule.
Graham Smith, Chief Executive of Republic, said: “In a democracy, everyone should be equal in the law.
“Laws should not be tailored to their [The Queen’s] own financial interests. There needs to be a full review into this.
“It’s certainly going to sour the feeling in Scotland about the Monarchy and in Scottish politics.”
In response, Buckingham Palace said the process of the Queen’s consent did not alter the content of any legislation.
A spokesman added: “The Royal Household can be consulted on Bills in order to ensure the technical accuracy and consistency of the application of the Bill to the Crown, a complex legal principle governed by statute and common law.
“This process does not change the nature of any such Bill.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scottish Government policy is that the Crown should be subject to regulatory requirements on the same basis as everyone else, unless there is a legitimate reason for an exemption or variation.
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“However, Crown consent is required by law if a Bill impacts the private property or interests of the Sovereign – and that is what happened in this case.
“In this instance, the Scottish Government considered it appropriate to limit the exercise of compulsory purchase powers in relation to the Queen’s private estates.
“The minister explained in detail to Parliament the reasons why it was appropriate to amend the Bill in this way – with specific reference to the Queen’s private estates – and Parliament agreed.”
Patrick Harvie MSP, leader of the Scottish Greens, added: “I’m just a little surprised that Mr Cole Hamilton has expressed his view now when he voted for the SNP’s amendment giving protection for the Queen’s private interests in the bill.
“Perhaps he has come to regret doing that and feels that he should have voted with the Greens, who were the only party to oppose it.
“Otherwise this would be a case of the Lib Dems saying one thing and doing another, and that surely can’t be right.”
The party also branded the British monarchy’s “secret lobbying” to allegedly alter the proposed legislation an “affront to democracy”
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