Prince Andrew had hinted that Queen Elizabeth II was going to weigh in on the Scottish independence vote, according to Lionel Barber, a former editor of the Financial Times.
In his diaries, The Powerful and the Damned: Private Diaries in Turbulent Times, published this month, and referenced by The Times, Barber claims that the Duke of York had given him “a nod and a wink, wink” and made some “pretty bloody amazing” comments about how the Queen was preparing to wade into the debate on the issue one week before the 2014 referendum.
The exchange allegedly took place over lunch, where Barber found himself in the company of Prince Andrew and Ma Kai, the former Chinese vice-premier, at Buckingham Palace on 11 September, four days after a YouGov poll for The Sunday Times.
With less than two weeks to go until voting day, the poll had YES at 51 per cent and NO at 49 per cent – the first lead for the independence camp registered by any company since regular polling on September 18th’s referendum began.
Peter recommends Lionel Barber’s latest book, The Powerful & The Damned: https://t.co/ezMNsUMuwZ— Lydia Wilkins (@Journo_Lydia) November 18, 2020
Barber’s writes: “There is this scene where I am at Buckingham Palace, invited by the roguish Duke of York to lunch with the Chinese foreign minister, and Andrew suddenly half lets loose that the Queen is going to intervene on the Sunday. That was interesting. They had clearly planned it. It was very artfully done ... Andrew knew about it.”
Three days after the lunch, the Queen memorably commented on the upcoming vote in the Scottish independence referendum.
When a member of the public joked outside the church at Crathie near the Queen’s Balmoral estate in Aberdeenshire that they were not going to mention the referendum, the royal remarked:
"Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future."
Royal officials at the time insisted her comment did not breach the monarch's constitutional impartiality.
It subsequently became one of the biggest talking points of the campaign, when the “no” side eventually won 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
‘Referendum On a Knife Edge’
There had been speculation that the Queen might have been part of an orchestrated campaign to discourage Scots from voting for independence.
In 2019, former UK prime minister David Cameron was cited by the BBC as revealing that the memorable Sunday Times poll had added to a “mounting sense of panic” that he might lose the referendum.
This had reportedly led him to seek help from royal officials to discuss how the Queen could comment on the upcoming vote while not venturing beyond the constitutional boundaries of neutrality.
It was claimed that if the Queen were to raise an eyebrow “even a quarter of an inch”, it could work towards saving the Union.
A new YouGov survey on Scottish independence has Yes in the lead for the first time since 2015, by 51% to 49%. @chriscurtis94 takes a look at how the electoral landscape has changed since 2014 and how #indyref2 might play out https://t.co/CAPgSqD1l0 pic.twitter.com/jdeoGi81j2— YouGov (@YouGov) January 30, 2020
At the time, Buckingham Palace dismissed any speculation that the Queen was looking to influence the outcome of the referendum as “categorically wrong”.
Recalling that lunch in Prince Andrew’s company, Barber claims the prevalent atmosphere at the palace on the day “was one of concern that the referendum was on a knife edge”. According to the former editor of the Financial Times, the Queen’s intervention “may have tipped the balance” with the final result.
In response to the report, Buckingham Palace said:
“We never comment on people’s recollections of what were private conversations.”
The issue of a second referendum has been floated by the government in Holyrood, however it is yet to be approved, as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has repeatedly opposed the idea.
As Nicola Sturgeon sets out her pitch for a second referendum on Scottish independence to be held in 2020. But with the path to the first vote taking over three years, when and how #indyref2 could take place? Our latest report explores https://t.co/dT7wXWnayh pic.twitter.com/4bJESqrB2A— Institute for Gov (@instituteforgov) December 19, 2019
Last year, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon framed a potential second referendum as a "choice between Brexit and a future for Scotland as an independent European nation".