The man who would be king - of Scotland?
Michael James Alexander stewart is traveling around Scotland delivering speeches. He argues that the Scots need a new style of monarchy and that they could do a whole lot worse than send Queen Elizabeth II packing and have him as king.
As voters prepare to elect Scotland's first Parliament in more than 300 years, this slender native of Belgium - who styles himself "His Royal Highness Prince Michael, 7th Count of Albany" - says that the "very English monarchy" offered by Elizabeth and other Windsors is "definitely not to my taste, and is certainly unsuited to Scotland."
The pretender to the Scottish throne adds, with a smile: "Actually, I'm a socialist, and in the May 6 general election I'll be voting for the Scottish National Party." The SNP is campaigning for a wholly independent Scotland, separate from the United Kingdom. The Parliament that will be elected on May 6 will be a "devolved" legislature, with Elizabeth continuing as queen of the United Kingdom including Scotland.
The man who claims the throne of the Scots was born in Belgium. At 18 he quit a job as an insurance broker in Brussels and went to Scotland, where he has lived ever since. He says he is the "the rightful heir" to King James II, who was chased from the British throne in 1688. Asked about his Belgian accent, he points out, correctly, that all James II's descendants have lived in exile in continental Europe.
In a bestselling book, "The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland," Mr. Stewart argues that Charles Edward Stuart - better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, who in 1745 staged a failed attempt to seize the British throne - later married Marguerite de Lussan, Comptesse de Missillan.
"I'm descended from the male line of that marriage," Stewart insists, asserting that "Stewart," not " Stuart," is the correct spelling of the family name.
His claims to have royal blood flowing through his veins produce reactions ranging from indifference and incredulity, through scepticism, all the way to derision. Gordon Kerr, a genealogical researcher based near Aberdeen, in the north of Scotland, calls them "dubious at best." David Williamson, co-editor of Debrett's Peerage, a highly regarded encyclopedia of royal and aristocratic families, prefers the term "bogus."
Whether or not Stewart's claims are well founded, many Scots believe the role of monarchy in Scotland will change once the Scots have their own Parliament and start running their own internal affairs.
David McCrone, a political analyst at Edinburgh University, advised the British government on setting up a Parliament in Scotland. He says the Scots "have never been as committed to the Windsors and their approach to monarchy as have the English south of the border."
Professor McCrone points out that, when the Scottish Parliament opens next month, "there will be nothing like the pomp and ceremony" that accompanies the opening of the UK Parliament in London.
Alison Kennedy, a prizewinning novelist who insists that Scotland "has its own clear-cut national identity, separate from the English," says she believes Scots are "not enamored of the Windsors and their attempts, when visiting Scotland, to wear kilts and behave in what they think is a Scottish way."
She says she expects the Windsors to accept "a more low-key role" when the new Parliament gets down to work. She "would not be worried" if Scotland ceased to have any monarch at all.
In Scottish cities and towns it is not hard to find citizens resentful of the lettering "ERII" (short for Elizabeth Regina II) stamped on all Royal Mail post boxes. They point out that Scotland has never had an Elizabeth I, because it became part of the United Kingdom in 1707, 104 years after Queen Elizabeth of England died.
On Queen Elizabeth II's royal style, Stewart is scathing.
"When she comes to Scotland, 250 people come with her," he says, speaking with obvious passion. "That's obscene." He adds: "I see myself as akin to the bicycling monarchs of Scandinavia, or to King Juan Carlos of Spain who plays a modest role as head of state and intervenes in his country's affairs only when he has to."
Asked whether he expects ever to become king of the Scots, Stewart offers a continental shrug. He is forceful, however, on why Scotland needs a monarch who would be "the people's choice."
"Britain has no written constitution," he says. "Scotland needs someone who can protect people from the unbridled power of the state."
As well as aspiring to the throne of Scotland, Stewart is active in promoting the interests of Europe's royal families, only eight of which nowadays function as full-fledged monarchies. He operates a "Royal House of Stewart" Web site on which he is named as "President of the Council of European Princes," which has members from "33 European Royal Houses."
THE council's "ambassadorial network," the Web site says, includes "embassies" in the United States, Canada, Russia, France, and South Africa. Its ambassador in the US is listed as "Chevalier Scott C. Stewart," of Eaton Rapids, Mich.
The St. Petersburg embassy, according to the Web site, is represented by the Rus-sian Imperial College of Arms, established by the late Grand Duke Vladimir Kirillovich Romanov, who had a claim to the throne of Russia.
No Stewart ambassador to Russia is currently named.