Anthem for Queen Elizabeth’s funeral contained ‘hidden Unionist code’ claim Scottish nationalists

·3-min read
Composer Sir James MacMillan
Composer Sir James MacMillan

A composer who wrote a new anthem for the Queen’s funeral has revealed that his piece provoked a backlash from nationalists who believed it contained a “hidden unionist code designed to mess with Scottish brains”.

Sir James MacMillan, who was born in Ayrshire, said some Scottish independence supporters had taken issue with his piece Who Shall Separate Us due to a belief that it was intended to convey a subliminal pro-UK message to audiences.

In fact, the composition was a setting of a passage from the Bible which was a favourite of the late Queen, ‘Who Shall Separate Us From The Love of Christ?’, and was intended to reflect her devotion to the Christian faith.

The choral work was performed at Westminster Abbey on Monday, with another Scot, Judith Weir, the only other artist to have a composition played for the first time at the service.

Writing in this week’s edition of The Spectator, Sir James said that some Scots had been “less than impressed” that two of their compatriots had written the only two new musical pieces played at the funeral.

Archbishop of Canterbury speaks during the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey - Getty Images Europe
Archbishop of Canterbury speaks during the State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II at Westminster Abbey - Getty Images Europe
Members of the Royal family and guests sing as the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II lies by the altar - Getty Images Europe
Members of the Royal family and guests sing as the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II lies by the altar - Getty Images Europe

Sir James, who was a high-profile supporter of the Union ahead of the 2014 independence referendum, said he and Ms Weir, who was born in England to Scottish parents, were considered “the Wrong Kind of Scots”.

He wrote: “One patriot tweeted angrily that I ‘have to move back to England’ because I’m ‘not a Scottish citizen’.

“Some others were annoyed at the title of my anthem ‘Who Shall Separate Us?’ implying that this contained some dastardly hidden Unionist code designed to mess with Scottish brains.

“They seemed unaware that St Paul’s Letter to the Romans was short on advice on Scottish constitutional rearrangements.”

A former composer-conductor of the BBC Philharmonic orchestra, Sir James said that it had been a “great honour” to write the anthem in tribute to the late Queen.

He wrote the piece a decade ago but its existence was a secret until the order of service was published on Sunday evening.

“I was told that this passage from Romans 8 was important to the Queen, as it gets right to the heart of her relationship with Jesus,” he said.

“Her Christian faith was an inspiration to millions, perhaps billions, around the world, and her ability to communicate it with devotion and pastoral insight in her Christmas messages and on other occasions was the focus of significance in her life and example.

“I have rarely reflected so deeply on a text, both while I was setting it and in the years since.”

Donald Cameron, constitution spokesman for the Scottish Tories, said it was a “sorry reflection of the SNP’s obsession with independence” that “zealous nationalists” viewed virtually almost everything “through the prism of the constitution”.

He added: “The fact that a new anthem written for Her Majesty’s funeral produced a backlash for its supposedly pro-union message would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.

“As one of the country’s most distinguished composers, James MacMillan deserves far better than this.”

The SNP was approached for comment.