THE latest scandal to hit the royal family has once again brought home the need for Scottish independence. While most of the country grapples with the rising cost of living, our money shouldn’t be spent on a ­publicly-funded rich family who can’t even provide the original ­version of a photograph they’ve admitted was doctored.

Unlike celebrities, the royal ­family’s entire, continued existence depends on the relationship they have with the people who they supposedly rule – and like any relationship, it is built on trust.

This trust has been rocked more than ever by the first official picture released of Kate Middleton since Christmas Day – a Mother’s Day greeting full of editing abnormalities including unusually shaped limbs, and, whether deliberate or not, the absence of a wedding ring.

This went far from unnoticed by online commentators, who have been asking “Where’s Kate?” following the Princess of Wales’s total absence from public life after planned ­abdominal surgery in January. While it was said that she would not return to public duties until after Easter, the public were told she was “making good progress” after the surgery.

But the princess has not been ­reliably photographed at all since then, prompting a wave of ­speculation that she is either sicker than ­previously revealed, potentially in the midst of a divorce from the future king, Prince William, or even in hiding because she’s undergone a Brazilian butt lift.

In an unusual move, Kensington Palace did confirm that the Mother’s Day greeting had been altered the day after it was pulled from circulation by international news agencies over ­concerns about its authenticity.

But when the palace was asked to provide the unedited photograph to prove this, they refused.

This admission of ­deception ­followed by the failure to ­provide ­reasonable evidence of the truthful photograph is fundamentally ­unacceptable.

The National:

The royal family are in receipt of around £86.3 million a year from the taxpayer via the Sovereign Grant – this is enough money to ­significantly help the estimated 4.2 million ­children currently living in poverty in the UK.

It also only fuelled the rumour mill about Kate’s potential whereabouts. Surely if “The Firm” had nothing to hide, they would have released the photograph and the public would have been glad to see the princess well with her children?

The fact that they have not ­suggests that all is not well with the Waleses and further damages the ­institution, which has been ­struggling to win the ­public over again ­after Prince ­Andrew’s ­allegations of sexual ­misconduct – and that’s not to ­mention the ­allegations of ­racism made by Meghan Markle and Prince Harry.

It also further cements the “us ­versus them” mentality that isolates the royals from the general ­public, who ultimately have a right to ­honesty from a family whose ­existence they fund.

READ MORE: Anger as Prince Andrew leads royal family in rare public appearance

The royal family are not ­celebrities, but they seem to want ­celebrity ­status – and respect for privacy – while living off money that’s a ­birthright at a time when millions of people in the UK are suffering.

I was personally floored to ­discover that Buckingham Palace was ­liable to pay a mere £1828 in council tax – which is marginally more than what most people in the UK, myself ­included, pay for a one-bedroom flat.

That’s not to mention the ­estimated £8m that’s being spent on ­hanging new portraits of King Charles in public buildings – something that feels like an exercise in vanity when Victorian diseases like rickets and scurvy are on the rise because people are struggling so much.

We are living in the year 2024. There is no need for a king to lead an army or a head of state to ­provide hope the way a young Queen ­Elizabeth did ­after the Second World War.

Unlike the royals, who have ­millions anyway, what the UK and Scotland need is money – and quite frankly, if they are hiding a major secret about Kate Middleton, this should be the end of them.

But if it’s not, Scotland needs to get out of this Union if we are to have any chance of flourishing the way we know can independently.

After all, we don’t even benefit from the tourism the royals bring to England, and at this stage, they are nothing more than a failing tourist ­attraction.

It’s time for a divorce, even if the Waleses remain together.