The clue is in the name. The Auld Alliance between Scotland and France is indeed old. It dates back to the 13th century, when a treaty was signed by John Balliol, King of Scots, and Philip IV of France, against the English king, Edward I. The alliance can be said to endure to this day, particularly in the shape of cultural exchanges, but there is also a relationship between the Scots and the French which makes us popular visitors in their country, and vice versa.
However, another interpretation of the alliance is that put forward by the Scottish historian JB Black, that the alliance is “an artificially created affection based on the negative basis of hatred of England”.
We would like to believe that this negative analysis does not reflect reality, and indeed it was rejected by no less a figure than Charles de Gaulle on a visit to Edinburgh in 1942, when the future French president was the exiled leader of Free France. “In every combat where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake,” said de Gaulle, “there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship.”
Is the alliance in danger of being damaged now, following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union? Relations between France and the UK are already tense, with the UK border in Calais a focus for understandable French discontent, and further friction possible over areas such as security and trade.
However, we should not be too despondent at what the future holds. Our alliance is 700 years old and has survived far worse than Brexit. We did not need the advent of the European Union to underpin the relationship. It existed pre-EEC, and will continue to exist post-EU.
That confidence should not be mistaken for complacency. Any country that walks away from another can expect a backlash, and there could be bridges to rebuild. If the SNP takes extra pains to do this, it will be time well spent, because as the UK sets off into the unknown, the strength of Scotland’s relationship with one of Europe’s most influential countries could turn out to be more important than we ever imagined.