Why Paris doesn't want a Scottish Yes
- 18 August 2014
- From the section Magazine
Nothing unites different nations quite like mutual enemies. But the "Auld Alliance" between Scotland and France - both historic rivals of England - doesn't mean that the French government favours Scottish independence. Far from it.
There is a little corner of France that will be forever Scotland, and it lies in rural obscurity somewhere between Orleans and Bourges.
The town of Aubigny-sur-Nere is an oddity because for 400 years it belonged to a branch of the Stuarts, the Scottish royal house.
In 1422, seven years after Agincourt, a certain John Stuart of Darnley sailed to France at the head of a small army.
He helped the French king in his fight against the English, and was rewarded with the lordship of Aubigny. The chateau remained in Scottish hands till the Revolution.
Today in Aubigny they recall the connection with an annual Scottish festival that takes place on 14 July, France's national day.
Pipers come from Scotland, and play alongside enthusiastic (though rather less gifted) local amateurs. French cooks try their hands at haggis, and the whisky flows with the wine.
What they are celebrating is the Auld Alliance - the bond of friendship between France and Scotland whose origins lie in their shared historic hostility to England.
The first written record of the Alliance dates to 1295, though it certainly existed in a less formal way well before that, and right up to 1830 Scottish officers formed the French royal bodyguard.
"It was a military alliance, which gradually became a romantic alliance," says Remi Beguin, cultural specialist at Aubigny town hall.
"The French have always loved the Scots, and the Scots have always loved the French. We are like a couple."
Certainly in Aubigny an affection for all things Caledonian is well in evidence.
It is widely believed locally, and could well be true, that many Scottish families settled in the Berry region of central France after the Hundred Years War. Certain local names - such as Turpin - are held up in evidence.
Rather less reliable is the story that for many years it was ordained that males in Aubigny should wear a kilt.
Another story popularly recounted is that right up to 1903, under the terms of the Auld Alliance, it was possible for French people to claim Scottish nationality and vice-versa. Even if this provision technically existed, no-one used it.
As for Scottish independence, deputy mayor Francois Gresset says it has been a hotly debated topic.
"Emotionally I would say most people in Aubigny are for it. But it is a complicated subject, and there are many factors to take into account. So we don't feel in a position to pronounce," he says. "It is up to the Scottish to decide."
His reserve on the issue is tacit acknowledgement that full-blown independence for Scotland may not tally with France's modern-day convictions and priorities.
Certainly, in Paris - though no-one in government would presume to say it openly - there is no enthusiasm for Scottish independence.
One factor is the regional example. France believes in the nation state, and would look askance at regions like Corsica or Brittany getting too strong ideas about hiving themselves off.
However, according to political scientist Dominique Moisi, that is not the real reason for French lack of support on independence.
"France is not Spain, where the precedent Scotland might set for Catalonia is very real. Here the regions make a lot of noise, but there is no risk of separation.
"No, for France the argument against Scottish independence is our dream of a strong United Kingdom, fully engaged in Europe, whose purpose is to counter-balance a Germany that gets more powerful every year.
"Anything that detracts from that strong United Kingdom - as Scottish independence would do - goes against French ambitions in Europe."
Seven hundred years ago France and Scotland had common cause, and forged a military bond to curb the power of England. Today the affection remains, but the causes have changed.
Today the Frenchman pats his Scottish friend apologetically and says, "Sorry, mon brave. We've battled together often in the past. But this time, the fight's not ours."
Subscribe to the BBC News Magazine's email newsletter to get articles sent to your inbox.