Does Prince Charles have social value?
Definitely yes, say dozens of girls from Adelaide, Australia, to San Francisco who have kissed him on royal goodwill tours.
Emphatically no, say Edinburgh's 21 dour Labor councillors who have just denied Charles the freedom of their royal city.
Alex Burton, one of the nay-saying councillors, explained:
"I accept he is an amiable guy but amiability is not enough. The honor should be bestowed on people who have proved to be characters of social value to his country."
Over the telephone from Edinburgh, Burton recalled that the freedom of the city - an honor with reward - had been conferred on the likes of Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens and Yehudi Menuhin.
The heir to the throne, said Burton, "doesn't rank in the same class with them."
To give Charles the honor - both his parents and all his ancestors going back to James II in 1679 have received it - "would foster forelock tugging," Burton said. Britain, he argued, already suffers from an overdose of deference.
Edinburgh's lord provost, Kenneth Borthwick, was fuming, however. He had rounded up 32 Conservative councillors, a Liberal, an independent and even four Scottish nationalists who favor taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom. But their 38 votes fell short of the two-thirds needed to give Charles the city's freedom.
The outcome, Borthwick said sadly, would demean Edinburgh in the eyes of the royal family, "at least temporarily."
"I am bitterly disappointed," he said."The city is embarrassed."
The amiable Charles tossed off the whole affair with a quip. At a charity raffle in Glasgow last night, he brought the house down by saying:
"When I opened my envelope I found a rather dismal card which said, 'Sorry, you have been unsuccessful.' I can only assume that it came from Edinburgh."
The snub touches on a raw royal nerve. At 29, with tax-free income of about $15,000 a year, the prince is Britain's most eligible bachelor. But apart from getting married and producing new heirs, he is in much the position of an American vice president whose job was once defined as waiting around for the head of state to die.
An active and enthusiastic young man, Charles has been at loose ends since he left the navy as a lieutenant 14 months ago.He has said in private that he does not like sitting around on his backside but his role limits the things he can do.
He would have liked to go into industry or finance, but earning a fortune would be indecent. He recalls the frustration of royal relatives who have lost their thrones and sat around doing nothing. But what could he properly do and still retain the royal mystique which his advisers think is a necessary and desired quality in an evidently popular monarchy.
The palace is known to be working on this problem and is expected to announce soon that Charles will plunge into some worthwhile activity that will engage his energies.
But the professional and commercial pursuits of the demystified monarchies in Holland and Scandanavia are not for the House of Windsor.
Burton and the Labor councillors who made their antimonarchial gesture are almost certainly part of a vanishing breed, republicans who regard the monarchy as an "anachronism, like the House of Lords" and would welcome its abolition.
The overwhelming response last year to Queen Elizabeth's silver jubilee, particularly in working class districts, demonstrated that the institution is strong. It rests on a delight in pageant, ceremony, ritual and fairy tale in a colorless, matter-of-fact age. It serves as a kind of social cement in a society that, like all others, is marked by class differences.