The Auld Alliance legacy: will France remember it if Scotland becomes independent?


L’Écosse ne nous apparait pas comme un pays proche, aussi bien culturellement qu’historiquement. Pourtant, elle a été liée pendant plusieurs siècles à la France par l’ “Auld Alliance”, d’ailleurs décrite par le général de Gaulle comme  la « plus vieille alliance au monde ». Face à l’émancipation d’un vieil allié, quelle position la France – un état centralisé redoutant de plus en plus le régionalisme – peut-elle bien adopter ?


The Auld Alliance (“auld” is a Scottish word that means “old”) is a cornerstone of the Franco-Scottish relations since 1295, when it was written for the first time. At that time, the two countries shared a mutual enemy: England. And as the dictum says, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. The Auld Alliance was first a military alliance. When one country was attacked by England, the other was to invade England.

But after being used more than six times over two centuries, the alliance ended in 1560 with the Treaty of Edinburgh. Scotland became officially Protestant, and thus allied to Protestant England.

Still, the alliance overtook the military sphere and left marks in the two countries, in architecture, language, dual nationality and drinks. For many decades, Scots preferred wine rather than whisky. Another example is that the French royal bodyguard was formed with Scottish officers for a long time.

Thus, despite the Treaty of Edinburgh, the shared memories have preserved the bonds between France and Scotland. That’s why both countries still had a close and active relationship until the end of the XVIIIth century, mostly regarding trade: Scottish merchants enjoyed customs privileges at some French ports. In 1995, commemorations took place in both countries to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Alliance. Nowadays in France, it is mostly commemorated in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Aubigny-sur-Nère – “la Cité des Stuarts”- where Franco-Scottish feasts take place every year and features pipers, whisky and wine. In the latter town, a symposium regarding the Alliance will occur on September 27th. Better known by the Scots, the Auld Alliance remains one of the marks of their national identity, whose free expression will be celebrated on September 18th.

auld2Aubigny-sur-Nère, a parade of pipers during the Franco-Scottish feast

In Aubigny, where the Franco-Scottish culture is strong, most people hope for independence. Concerning the French political class, there is no such enthusiasm for a Scottish YES. The main reason for this is related to the cohesion of the United Kingdom, and thus its power: most oil reserves are in Scotland, same thing for the British nuclear weapons stockpiles. A weaker UK would greatly affect Europe’s development.

Furthermore, a majority NO vote, very plausible according to the polls, could dishearten regions possibly in search of independence or, at least, of emancipation, as Brittany and Corsica. Spain is far more concerned than France. Catalonia is looking forward to the results, which will be encouraging or not for its own referendum on November 9th. That’s why Spain, certainly like France, would reject any application for EU membership from an independent Scotland. It would be the beginning of Europe’s division. With globalization and Europe’s Single Market, the concept of “nation” has lost much of its content. Hence, if a region can get its independence AND easily return to the EU, what could prevent this division from actually happening? France cannot afford that to happen…



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