The skirmishes off the French coast are a sign of trouble to come as we leave EU fisheries policy, writes Brian Monteith
The call by the SNP’S Constitutional Relations Secretary, Mike Russell, to build upon Scotland’s “Auld Alliance” with France could not have been more timely, or so it seemed.
Speaking in Paris in advance of the opening of another Scottish Government outpost later this year, the ever loquacious Russell provided some comments that could be spun madly by government and SNP media managers keen to distract attention away from the Salmond versus Sturgeon story.
Unfortunately Russell’s mistyeyed romanticism surrounding the Auld Alliance was soon all at sea when a Peterhead scallop dredger was one of a number of British boats attacked by a 40-strong French flotilla in international waters near France. What was the worth of the Auld Alliance then? Not much, or nul point, it would seem.
Rocks were lobbed, flares were aimed at our boats and reports of ramming either deliberately or from being too close was the result. The French had protested that they had taken an enforced seasonal rest to allow scallop stocks to recover, but beyond their 12-mile limit boats from other EU nations were entitled to continue fishing. And this all happened while under EU Common Fisheries Policy regulations – it will be quite another affair following Brexit.
There is a rich seam of history regarding Scotland’s close relationship with France that could be mined, and Russell did not fail to disappoint. The majority of what is considered the “alliance” of course predates Scotland’s King James VI ascending to the English throne and then Scotland’s Parliament voluntarily founding the Union of Great Britain with England and Wales.
Many a battle was fought earlier against the English with Scots and French side by side; many a member of the royal households of either nation would intermingle and look down on their peasantry; and much trade between the nations would pass through our harbours, not least the great claret trade that, as well as bringing wine to Leith, brought an expertise in glass making that ultimately led to Edinburgh Crystal.
What Russell could not mention though was how the Auld Alliance led to many Scots dying in pointless battles with the English. Nor did he mention the role of Scots at Trafalgar in 1805, which some historians estimate was as much as a third of the fighting complement at sea that day. Or the countless sacrifices made by Scottish soldiers fighting in battles such as Waterloo or the building of Martello towers around Scottish shores to ensure we could have advance warning to help see off any possible invasion by Napoleon’s forces.
The Auld Alliance, once vital and virile had been replaced by a New Alliance where Scots went on to explore the world and build an empire that eclipsed that of the French. Thanks in part to Scotland’s reformation and economic self-interest our loyalties had switched and the likes of Burns, Scott and many others who wrote as they witnessed our reorientation happening had no doubts where our true interests lay.
That is not to say we should not retain our affection for France and the French, not least as its people love visiting our natural landscape or sampling our produce – and especially our whisky. But we should not fool ourselves that Scotland now offers any strategic interest to France or is likely to in