Is the 'Auld Alliance' between Scotland and France back, in run-up to referendum?

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As the Scottish decide whether to break from the union with England, the embers of an even older Scottish alliance are being revived: "The Auld Alliance" with the French.

Recently, there has been a flurry of behind-the-scenes agreements between the two former kingdoms, who for centuries allied over shared hostility toward England. Delegations and ministers have travelled between Edinburgh and Paris to sign pacts in cooperation in energy, education, culture and the arts.

Could the cultural and military alliance — which allowed Mary Queen of Scots to reign over France in the 1500s, had Scots fight with Joan of Arc against the English, and allowed Scotland to buy the fine Claret wine still enjoyed today — be regaining life?

"There is a great deal of affection in the Scots for the French, based on an understanding of our historical links. Also the Scottish kings had French wives for political reasons," said Fiona Hyslop, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, who was in Paris in December to sign with France's culture minister an agreement to collaborate in culture.

"In outlook, Scotland is far more like our European counterparts. ... It's the UK that's the anomaly," she said, adding that work to forge common agreements in energy and education will be boosted if Scottish voters say "yes" to independence in Thursday's referendum.

Old friends France and Scotland owe each other a great deal.

"The Auld Alliance" dates to 1295 — and right up to 1830, Scottish officers formed the French royal bodyguard. Not only did the royal families intermarry, but the two cultures shared a passion for drink, food and textiles that continues to this day.

"Clearly the French have their champagne, we have our Scotch whisky. ... We are countries which produce quality products. We both have the synergy in understanding the finer and better aspects of quality of life," said Hyslop.

Paris, the capital of the luxury industry, even looks to Scotland for fashion know-how.

Chanel paid homage to Scotland's impact on France's prized fashion industry recently by buying a Scottish textile company and hosting a fashion show in Linlithgow Palace, the former residence of the Stuarts and Queen Mary's birthplace.

But not all the French remember the "Auld Alliance" through such rose-tinted glasses.

"An independent Scotland would be a strong shock," said Philippe Moreau-Defarges, expert on self-determination at the French Institute of International Relations.

"Yes, France and Scottish relations go back to medieval times. But the first employer of the French today is London. If we have to choose, don't be fooled: France will go in the direction of London."


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