For some 750 years, the relationship between France and Scotland has stood firm, despite the apparent chaos of ever-changing alliances and European civil wars that have bruised our continent over the centuries.
Having studied history at the Sorbonne in Paris, I was consistently struck by the long-lasting and little-known links that unite us: the Auld Alliance is not merely a gimmick beloved of rugby fans, it has united our peoples more deeply than we acknowledge today. Thousands of French people in the Berry and Anjou regions are descendants of Scots who settled there after fighting to help France regain its independence with Charles VII. When my grandfather was born, any French or Scottish citizen could still automatically obtain dual nationality!
Were France to turn her back on this friendship forged with Scotland over the centuries, she would be neglecting her own history. We cannot build anything unless we enhance the coherence and strong links we have with our past.
What’s more, French politicians cannot remain indifferent to the burning question of your national destiny, one that has been asked for several years. Nicola Sturgeon has announced that legislation to organise a new referendum on Scotland’s independence by 2021 will be presented shortly. At this time, Europe and France must speak with one voice on the European future of Scotland. This issue is fundamental. The result of the 2014 independence referendum was influenced by this European aspect, given that by leaving the UK, Scotland may also have been obliged to leave the EU. In the end, because of the demagogues that pushed for Brexit, Scotland will most likely be unable to stay in the EU anyway!
Deeply attached to the project of European construction, the Scots are being pushed towards the exit against their will.
Such a situation deserves better than a closed door.
The European Commission led by José Manuel Barroso made a big mistake in 2014 when it explicitly closed the door to a deeply pro-European people, who have been fully-fledged members of the Community for the past 40 years. In stating that Scotland would have no place in Europe, it did not live up to its role, which had obvious repercussions on the result of the vote, undermining the project of an independent Scotland.
Former French President François Hollande did not offer a helping hand in 2014, committing an enormous error when he deemed that the issue of Scottish independence was merely one of British domestic politics. That is not true - the destiny of the Scottish people is a deeply European issue! France has no vocation to support or to oppose the will of the Scottish people to become an independent state, since this question is to be answered by those living in Scotland. However, France’s role is to state very clearly that in the event of independence, Scotland would have its place in the European Union, and should not be deprived of its European destiny.
I called on the French President to express this position very clearly on the future of Scotland and Europe. Emmanuel Macron must not follow in his predecessor’s footsteps: the silence of European leaders on Scotland’s future does a disservice to the European ideal. How can Europe be revived if we refuse to open our arms to one of our continent’s most pro-European peoples?
Europe’s legitimacy is strengthened when it helps us do better what we cannot do alone, whether that means fighting climate change, creating a balance of power with China, or leading the US in terms of artificial intelligence. To achieve this, we need the Scots who understood that Europe was not just a huge single market, but a powerful tool for our peoples.
I deeply believe that an independent Scotland would have its place in Europe with no conditions and without delay, something of which it cannot be deprived. The deadlines and conditions imposed during the joining process are dependent on candidate states complying with EU treaties and regulations known as “acquis communautaires”. In this case, an independent Scotland would become one of the most developed states in the EU, having complied with the “acquis” for several decades. Now that the Spanish veto has been lifted, nothing would prevent Scotland’s integration by way of an exceptional procedure, similar to the one used by the EEC when it integrated the German Democratic Republic in 1990.
The significant choice you have to make by 2021 belongs to you. With this in mind, remember that across the Channel, you can count on friends who have not forgotten that the Scots are a great European people, and that Scotland is a friend and a historical ally of France.
Jean-Christophe Lagarde is a French MP and head of UDI party and Les Européens campaign