EARLIER this week, I found myself standing on the platform of a packed London tube station, trying to explain to a Tory MP the complexity of the Scots’ feelings towards the late Queen, the monarchy in general and how this relates to the independence question. A thoughtful politician, he understood that support for independence is real and growing but he could not square that with the extraordinary scenes on the streets of Edinburgh, and indeed in rural Scotland, as thousands turned out to pay their respects.

Because the Queen chose to die here, Scotland was the centre of the world’s attention for several days. Edinburgh and Scotland shone, and we should be proud of that. The beautiful autumnal sunshine showed our country off in its best light from the splendours of Deeside, through the glens of Angus to the majesty of Edinburgh’s old town. Sombre and dignified, drenched in atmosphere as well as sun, what the world may remember most this week are those scenes.

READ MORE: How to honour the late Queen Elizabeth? Remember what she said at COP26

Whatever your views – monarchist or republican – it would be a cold heart that would not be moved by the pageantry and dignity of the occasion. All nations need symbols and ceremonial, what de Gaulle used to call the politics of grandeur.

When I spoke in the House of Commons during the tributes to the Queen, I sought to remind people that the current royal family is a direct descendant of Scotland’s Stuart kings and queens.

One of the most poignant moments of the last week was when the ancient crown worn by Mary Queen of Scots was placed on the late Queen Elizabeth’s coffin. These events over the past few days have shown just how important our history and culture is to many Scots.

I was disappointed when my speech was met with some sour comments. Clearly, some people don’t do subtlety or understand that parliamentary time set aside for tributes to the deceased monarch is not the time for an MP to engage in a republican tirade. We would do well to emulate the generosity of spirit shown by Irish nationalists, such as Speaker Alex Maskey’s (below) comments at Hillsborough Castle on Tuesday.

Protesters hold a free speech demonstration opposite St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh ahead of a prayer service for Queen Elizabeth

There was, of course, deep hurt felt in 1979 and in 2014 when the Queen was seen to state a personal preference on devolution and independence. But just as banks and financial institutions already operate in different jurisdictions across the world, so too does the monarchy and, despite any resistance to change, both are highly capable of adapting as needed and could do so when Scotland regains its independence.

People from all sides of the discourse have spoken about how the Queen was a great form of support and source of encouragement for the Scottish Parliament and MSPs in its early years.

She was happy for the first presiding officer, Sir David Steel, to describe her “in the historic and constitutionally correct manner as Queen of Scots”. To be queen of a people, not of a territory, requires a lightness of touch, humanity and humour. As Scots, we are less deferential, but we are warm and affectionate, and people across Scotland did have an affection for the Queen and respect for the way she carried out her role.

Protesters hold a free speech demonstration opposite St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh ahead of a prayer service for Queen Elizabeth

There are people in the Yes movement who support the monarchy and see our independence as an opportunity to restore the ancient kingdom of Scots with its symbols, dignity and tradition. Many others do not and want to seize the opportunity for a new modern democratic constitution.

The pursuit of an independent Scotland and a fully democratic republic are perhaps two sides of the same coin. One would undoubtedly be required to enable the other. It is highly unlikely that if the UK continues in its current form, it will choose a different constitutional set-up in my lifetime.

However, the Irish model of an elected national figurehead is a possible option for Scotland, someone who, in many ways, is the cultural head of the nation rather than the political one – a philosopher or a historian, perhaps, or a poet as we have seen lately in Ireland. Someone who can bring inspiration and comfort when needed at times of national importance.

However, whilst I am at heart a republican and continue to believe that a future independent Scotland should elect its head of state, the arguments for independence and for a republic remain separate, and as a nation and a movement, we should tackle them one at a time.

READ MORE: Anger over Prince Andrew's Scottish title amid Counsellor of State backlash

Ruth Wishart was right when she said that it would be useful to decouple the constitutional debate (by which she meant the independence debate) from the monarchy about which many Scots hold very different views. Indeed, that has been the policy of the SNP for a long time and was reflected in the tributes from both our current and former leaders. Notwithstanding the respect shown to the monarchy this week, independence will continue to be top of the political agenda in Scotland because of the significant political and social divergence between Scotland and England that has developed over the last 70 odd years.

Respect for the late Queen and indeed for the monarchy is shared by both those who support Scottish independence and those who do not. Equally, there are republicans on both sides of the constitutional debate, and they must be allowed to make their views known – including by public protest.

I am very concerned by the heavy-handed arrests of people who have seen fit to protest this week in the name of republicanism, anti-imperialism or, indeed, disapproval of the behaviour of Prince Andrew. Whilst some might question whether this is the appropriate time for such protests, the right to protest is fundamental to our society and should be facilitated.

READ MORE: Scotland's reasons for being pro-monarchy are pragmatic and principled

The founders of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) described freedom of expression as “the touchstone of all freedoms”. The European Court of Human Rights has made clear that: “Freedom of expression constitutes one of the essential foundations of a democratic society … it is applicable not only to ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference but also to those that offend, shock or disturb”.

A democracy which loses sight of this is in trouble. Unfortunately, both north and south of the Border, we have allowed a degree of authoritarianism to creep into our public life, with police turning up at members of the public’s doors to “check their thinking”.

New public order measures in England and Wales and the, as yet not in force, Hate Speech legislation in Scotland could both be subject to legal challenge for violating fundamental ECHR rights including not only freedom of expression but also, freedom of belief.

This week, I have spent some time observing a court case in which one charity is trying to have another charity removed from the register because it disagrees with its objectives. It’s an extraordinary attack on the freedoms of belief, expression and association. Shutting down the expression of views with which we disagree is not a path we should go down as a society.

It is not surprising that people wanted, quite legitimately, to protest the proclamation of a new king. The fact that that might upset some people does not affect their right so to do. In future, greater care will need to be taken by the police to facilitate the right to protest, particularly during the coronation.