Former PM David Cameron has revealed he asked whether the Queen could “raise an eyebrow” about the prospect of Scotland voting for independence.
He told the BBC he sought help from royal officials days before the 2014 vote amid “mounting panic” he may lose.
What was discussed was not “anything that would be in any way improper… but just a raising of the eyebrow even… a quarter of an inch”, he said.
The Queen later urged people to “think very carefully about the future”.
The comments – made to a well-wisher outside a church on the Balmoral estate – were one of the main talking points of the referendum campaign.
Reflecting on his rise to power and six years in Downing Street in a two-part BBC documentary, Mr Cameron said the Queen’s words on the issue were “very limited but helped to put a slightly different perception on things”.
Scotland went on to reject independence by a margin of 55.3% to 44.7%, a result which Mr Cameron said left him “blissfully happy”.
The Cameron Years, which begins on Thursday, examines Mr Cameron’s modernisation of the party, his decision to enter a coalition with the Liberal Democrats after the 2010 election and the fallout from 2016 Brexit referendum, which led to his resignation.
In it, he says:
- He “broods” every day about the Brexit referendum and its consequences
- He ignored former chancellor George Osborne’s advice against the poll and Michael Gove’s reservations
- Boris Johnson “agonised” over his position and “did not really want to leave” the EU
- He still believes Brexit can “be delivered and made to work”
- His government’s austerity programme was “painful” but necessary
- Legalising gay marriage was perhaps his “proudest” achievement in office
In the run-up to the 18 September poll, it was reported that the Queen was concerned about the possibility of Scotland opting to sever the 300-year union with England and Wales.
A Sunday Times poll on 7 September putting the Yes campaign ahead contributed to a “mounting sense of panic” in Downing Street, Mr Cameron recalls.
The poll, which was published while he and his wife Samantha were staying at Balmoral, “hit me like a blow to the solar plexus”.
Mr Cameron – who agreed to hold the independence referendum in the face of opposition within his party – said there followed urgent conversations between advisers in Downing Street and Buckingham Palace to figure out how the Queen could comment while still remaining within the constitutional boundaries of neutrality.
“I remember conversations I had with my private secretary and he had with the Queen’s private secretary and I had with the Queen’s private secretary, not asking for anything that would be in any way improper or unconstitutional but just a raising of the eyebrow even, you know, a quarter of an inch, we thought would make a difference.”
At the time, the BBC’s royal editor said her words were “more of an observation than an intervention”, while Buckingham Palace said any suggestion the Queen was seeking to influence the outcome of the referendum was “categorically wrong”.
Officials insisted the monarch was above politics, and the issue of Scotland’s future was a matter for the people.
Two weeks after the Scottish referendum, Mr Cameron was forced to apologise after suggesting the Queen “purred down the phone” when she was told about the No result.
While he feels “sorry” about events since the 2016 Brexit vote, Mr Cameron said he did not regret the decision to hold the EU referendum.
While some people would “never forgive” him, he maintained the UK’s 40-year membership was becoming “unstable” and the duty of leaders was to “see difficulties coming and try to resolve them and shape the country’s response to them”.
He accepted he “totally underestimated the latent Leave gene” in his party and that during the campaign while “he had a winning hand, he could not seem to play it”.
After losing the vote, Mr Cameron said he knew he had to quit because he did not have the “credibility to deliver Brexit”, but was “desperately sad” his time in office was cut short.
“I think of all the things we could and should have done if we had been able… to win the referendum,” he recalls. “A whole lot of what we could have done effectively ran into the sand of the European issue.”
On his economic and social record, he rejects as “total nonsense” opponents’ claims that he embraced deep spending cuts as a political choice to reduce the size of the state.
He says the multi-billion pound budget deficit inherited by his government in 2010 was a “clear and present danger to the British economy” requiring immediate action.
“In the end there were difficult and painful decisions, but inequality fell and the share of income tax paid by the richest went up, not down,” he argued. “We protected pensioners, we protected the NHS, we protected help for the poorest.”
Mr Cameron’s long-awaited memoirs, entitled For The Record, will be published on 19 September.
In excerpts published by the Times last week, he accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of behaving “appallingly” during the Brexit referendum.
The first episode of The Cameron Years will be broadcast on BBC One at 21.00 BST.