LEADING artist Peter Howson has revealed he is going to send his OBE back to the Queen as he no longer wants to be a part of the British establishment.
The painter, who backed the campaign for Scottish independence, emphasised the decision was not due to “sour grapes” over the No vote.
However, he said reports of the Queen “purring” over the referendum result, and the trouble that flared the night after the vote when loyalists caused ugly scenes in Glasgow, had helped him finally make up his mind.
Howson said his reasons for rejecting the award included wanting to protest against past “illegal” wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Britain’s involvement in the airstrikes against Islamic State, as well as his opposition to Trident.
He said: “I don’t feel in any way I now want to be part of the British Empire – I don’t feel British and so I don’t feel I can keep hold of the OBE any more.
“There are a few reasons for handing it back: it is a protest about the bombing … and also going back to the whole idea of the illegal wars in Afghanistan and especially Iraq.”
He added: “I just don’t want to be any part of the whole British establishment set-up any more. The way society has become is what I can only describe as a kind of madness. I think we have been caught up with so many distractions from the reality which is happening and we are not really taking any moral stance at all.”
Howson said he had also been influenced by the aftermath of the referendum. He said: “I think another issue which finally persuaded me to give back the OBE was the scenes in George Square when people were giving Nazi salutes. I thought we can’t be allowing this to happen. They came out from under their rocks only when the victory was won.
“But I would have given the OBE back if Scotland had voted for independence. I don’t feel proud to be British – I used to feel proud but not any more. I feel proud to be Scottish.
“I am totally convinced we are going to get independence soon – I think the longer things go on, England will become more and more right-wing and Britain is collapsing anyway. There is a new interest in politics and democracy, with people all over Britain who want the power in people’s hands again.”
Howson said he had been influenced by reading about others who had rejected honours from the Queen – including John Lennon, who he described as a “great hero”.
The Beatles were awarded MBE honours in 1965, but Lennon sent his back four years later, with a note that read: “Your Majesty, I am returning my MBE as a protest against Britain’s involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts.” It was signed: “With love. John Lennon of Bag”.
Two years ago a list of those who declined an honour between 1951 and 1999, and have since died, was published for the first time after a freedom of information request.
Among those who were named included painter Frances Bacon, authors Roald Dahl and Aldous Huxley, artist Lucien Freud and sculptor Henry Moore. The artist LS Lowry rejected five honours in total, including a knighthood.
Howson was awarded the OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2009. He was the British official war artist in the 1993 Bosnian Civil War and his work is exhibited and collected worldwide. He has been treated for drink and drug addiction and depression in the past and was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome seven years ago.
In 1998 he designed a stamp for the millennium depicting steam power, which reportedly upset the Queen as it showed her head coming out of a smoking industrial chimney.
Howson said he did not regret accepting the OBE and did not have anything against the royal family – but was determined to make his views known. He said: “I was proud and very honoured to get it at the time. But this is me taking a stand – even if it might backfire, as I might lose jobs or I might lose support.”
Howson, who was born in London, added: “I have absolutely no hatred of the English or anti-English feeling – I am English myself, after all.
“Giving up my OBE is not because of the No vote, but because of issues such as the continuing military action and Trident.”