In an unprecedented intervention into a political contest which sounds distinctly like a warning, the Queen has urged Scots to 'think very carefully' about the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum.
Her remarks, although arguably free from bias, will inevitably be seen as an appeal for Scots to vote “No” in this Thursday’s referendum.
The comments will infuriate the pro-independence Yes Campaign. Just this week, its leader, Alex Salmond, welcomed an official statement by Buckingham Palace which said the Queen would refrain from commenting on the referendum. However, there is also a significant chance the comments could backfire, reigniting the familiar charges that Scots are being ‘lectured’ to by the establishment on the independence issue.
Her Majesty reportedly made the remark to several members of the public who was waiting outside Crathie church, deliberately in view of the press.
The Telegraph's Scottish correspondent, Auslan Cramb, reports that the Queen normally walks in and out of the small church from her car, while on holiday at nearby Balmoral Castle, without talking to bystanders.
But before she left the kirk on Sunday, a police sergeant invited members of the press waiting 200 yards away to come up to the church to see the royal party depart.
The Queen was photographed saying something to a small group of three four Scots, and a similar number of English visitors, in the crowd.
According to Scottish newspaper the Record, when asked what the Queen had said to the group, a woman who asked not to be named, replied: "She was lovely and said she hoped everybody would think very carefully about the referendum this week".
One observer said: "It was completely unexpected. It was almost like a 'goodbye' in case she isn't Queen of the United Kingdom when she goes to Crathie Church next Sunday. Everyone was completely surprised by the move".
The Queen, who is expected to remain at Balmoral for another three weeks, had earlier heard the Rev Prof David Fergusson, the guest preacher at the kirk, speak of the need for reconciliation between the two sides in the debate whatever the outcome of the vote.
A spokesman for Buckingham Palace said today: “We would never comment on a private interchange."
The Queen is still in Scotland, where she spends her summer holiday.
The dramatic intervention comes after a week in which the Queen has seen a number of appeals to intervene in the Scotland debate.
Although it could be argued that the Queen has not urged her Scottish subjects to vote in a particular way, there is little doubt that her remarks will be interpreted as a pro-Union statement.
The Queen is (unsurprisingly) known to be in favor of retaining the Union owing to a speech made in 1977, warning against breaking up the realm, saying she understood “aspirations” of devolved power but saying: “I cannot forget that I was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and of Northern Ireland. Perhaps this Jubilee is a time to remind ourselves of the benefits which union has conferred, at home and in our international dealings, on the inhabitants of all parts of the United Kingdom.”
Simon Danczuk, a Labour MP, who has lobbied for the Queen to speak out, said today of her comments, "This shows that her preference is for us to stay together.”
A spokesman for the Queen previously said, "Any suggestion that the Queen would wish to influence the outcome of the current referendum campaign is categorically wrong.
"Her Majesty is firmly of the view that this is a matter for the people of Scotland."
In the event of independence, the Queen will remain as head of state. Scotland will be a constitutional monarchy, continuing the Union of the Crowns that dates back to 1603, pre-dating the Union of the Parliaments by over one hundred years.