Some words have, what’ll I say, a complete sound to them. Like “sovereign”. The word rolls around in your mouth like a gob-stopper. There was quite a bit of sovereign talk over the past week.
There was sovereign as in “Her Sovereign Majesty The Queen’s Cor-blimey-don’t-time-fly Diamond Jubilee”. There was a lot of that, and of her loyal subjects getting quite moist, not just from excitement but from the rain pelting down on the Thames and them, turning what should have been a sunlit royal procession of stately barges and choirs of fragrant babes into a wind-and-rain-soaked multitude, singing babes turning blue with the wet and cold as the the non-heir to the throne and his second wife grinned and did little knee-bends to the sodden strains of “Land of Hope and Glory”. Normally the BBC can make this kind of occasion sound like a fairytale with prefabricated ancient elements laced in, but this time even it was struggling to avoid televising a total royal washout.
The thing is, like Danny Morrison said on Radio Ulster/Raidio Uladh last Saturday, not all of us get the point of monarchy. Why use genetic Russian roulette to appoint your head of state? Anything could pop out. A lovely surprise. Or a nasty shock. Granted, the British people do seem pleased with the present incumbent – more than pleased, they’re weak-kneed with pleasure that she’s spent sixty years of selfless “service” to the state. You might think that unimaginable wealth and luxury and working about eighty days a year and being transported and entertained and fawned on everywhere you turned – you might think or even say “That sounds like a very, very cosy number”. But it’s not, apparently. It’s selfless service.
Anyway most British people appear to like it. Gives them a sense of continuity, apparently. There’s the occasional blip or even earthquake, like the Diana business; but who thinks of Diana now? On the other hand, there’s Charles. They’re not too keen on him. They’re even talking about skipping a generation to avoid him, which would of course be to move the hereditary goalposts a teensy bit, leaving you with a monarchy that’s hereditary except when you don’t too much fancy the cut of the jib of the next in line, in which case it’s kind of hereditary leap-frog.
The other sovereign thing featuring last week was Irish sovereignty. As in “Goodbye Irish sovereignty, hello Frankfurt”. Of course, long before the invention of the EU, ‘way back in the 1920s, the Irish people got a kind of sovereignty south of the border and no kind of sovereignty north of the border. More recently we’ve had all those treaties – Maastericht, Lisbon and now the Fiscal Treaty. All with one thing in common: they took a big bite out of Irish sovereignty.
But hey, maybe we just have to learn to live with it. Maybe those who say we must never have another European war are right, and maybe first fiscal union and then political union are the price that must be paid. Certainly there’s no doubt that Germany is now leading a drive towards a more integrated Europe, and since Germany went from a handful of states to a united country in the second half of the nineteenth century via monetary union, you can be sure a United States of Europe is getting less unthinkable with every treaty.
Some of us, of course, remember a time when the EU mantra was that as much power as possible should be devolved to the local level. Now we’re headed in the opposite direction: power is getting sucked to the centre, with the rich and powerful dictating the European tune.
Except, of course, enough people say “Not another red cent” and mean it, and freeze that movement in its tracks. But that’s unlikely. Isn’t it?