We all mourn our late beloved Queen for many reasons, not least the constancy and pillar of strength she personified through very turbulent times and significant change. As she lived her both family and civic life in the full glare of public gaze she showed empathy and sensitivity to her subjects and those overseas which endeared her and provided a rock of stability which remained enduring. She fully comprehended the limits placed on her through constitutional monarchy – in one of her early addresses to the nation in her first televised Christmas broadcast in 1957 Queen Elizabeth recognised the limitation on her powers and turned it to her advantage by stating “I cannot lead you into battle, I do not give you laws or administer justice, but I can do something else. I can give you my heart and my devotion to these old islands and to all the peoples of our brotherhood of nations.” It was this ability to stand above politics, almost as a national friend, yet showing her compassion for those who were in need that so endeared her to the nation and to the peoples of those 54 countries in the Commonwealth.
When she first embarked on overseas travel it was as heir to the Head of the British Empire, while during her reign she saw the empire disappear and be replaced by a free association of 54 nations representing some 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth – almost one third of the world’s population. She oversaw that transition with skill, diplomacy and sensitivity and it was her obvious affection for and interest in the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of the Commonwealth that inspired so many to reciprocate with admiration and love.
In the UK she lived through great constitutional changes during her seventy years’ reign. In 1969 the UK led Western Europe in lowering the voting age to 18. In 1973 the ill-fated Northern Ireland Assembly was created elected by proportional representation, a system of election that has survived the various subsequent changes and the institution of the New Northern Ireland Assembly through the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in 1998. The Scotland Act 1978 provided for the establishment of the Scottish Assembly but Scotland had to wait until 1999 for the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, again elected through proportional representation. In May 1999 the Welsh Assembly (now Senedd) elected by proportional representation followed. As its website points out in a tribute to the late Queen she attended every Senedd opening ceremony since its inception, reflecting her recognition of this Parliament’s contribution to Welsh life.
In local government, since 2007, the single transferable vote has been used to elect Scottish and Northern Irish councils. The Queen also witnessed the creation of The London Assembly whose members are elected through proportional representation. For the majority of her reign the UK was part of the European Union with MEPs elected by proportional representation to the European Parliament.
Metropolitan mayors and, until the Elections Act passed in April 2022, the Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) have been elected using the supplementary vote system in which voters rank their two favoured candidates where the second-preference votes of eliminated candidates are reallocated if no candidate has an outright majority. Following the passing of the Elections Act 2022, however, PCCs will now be elected using the first-past-the-post system.
Notwithstanding the recent reversion to first-past-the-post for PCCs every new legislative body or elected office during the late Queen’s reign has been under a system of proportional representation or the supplementary vote, making Westminster look increasingly isolated. A similar story of electoral transition can be observed in the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth II leaves behind an uncontested legacy as a beacon for democracy.
The late Queen was the perfect constitutional monarch. Although, clearly, she had her opinions and, no doubt, gave valuable private advice to her fifteen Prime Ministers (of which we shall never learn because they remain confidential), she was careful never to enter into the political debate. We do not know her views on proportional representation or issues like devolution nor, even, on Scottish independence (although we can guess). We do know that she had a special involvement with and affection for Scotland (where she was Elizabeth I, not Elizabeth II) and, of course, she may well have been of the view that in the event of independence she would, nevertheless, remain Head of State for Scotland (as she is was for so many former colonies) as well as for the UK – mirroring James VI of Scotland who became coincidentally James I of England – as, indeed, has been proposed by the First Minister.
The degree of tact and self-control that enabled the late Queen to steer this difficult course with such skill, humour, sensitivity and correctness can only be a source of marvel and admiration for all of us. She will long be remembered not only for her longevity but also for those qualities which have been an inspiration to us all.