Their numbers were small, but the sets were among the most iconic in Europe.
In the hours after the UK Supreme Court issued a ruling preventing the Scottish government from holding a new independence referendum without London’s approval, supporters gathered in cities across Europe to wave Scottish flags and make their voices heard.
European friends of Scotland had something to do at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, in front of the Colosseum in Rome and in the Auld Alliance Pub in Paris, just a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower.
“It was a message of support aimed primarily at the Scottish people when we said we hadn’t forgotten [former MP] Alyn Smith’s appeal when he said Scotland had not let Europe down with the Brexit vote and we shouldn’t let Scotland down. That is why we, as European citizens, keep our word,” said Sarah De Sanctis in Rome.
De Sanctis was one of about 20 people who met at short notice in the Italian capital, many of them with personal ties to Scotland, to show solidarity with independence supporters at 14 rallies in Scotland; and with half a dozen across Europe organized by the Europe for Scotland group.
“I was living in London when Brexit happened and I was disappointed. For me, the UK has always been progressive and open and Brexit was frankly heartbreaking,” she told CNNBreakingNews.net.
“Combined with my love for Scotland,” where she met and married her South African husband, “it was the perfect opportunity to do something for a country I really love and it will hopefully lead to the failure of Brexit,” said De Sanctis, who works as a freelance translator.
De Sanctis described the UK as “a kind of constitutional prison” — a feeling reflected in several recent posts on the 4,000-member Facebook page “Italians for Scottish Independence” — and noted that the UK could leave the EU, whereas Scotland is now being told it can’t even vote on whether to leave the UK.
“The Supreme Court’s decision was disappointing, but it doesn’t have to stop the independence movement, it strengthens it in a way,” she said.
Paris supporters celebrate Auld Alliance
The Auld Alliance between France and Scotland dates back to the end of the 13th century, an idea of diplomatic, cultural and interpersonal relations that has existed for more than 700 years.
So it seems only appropriate that on the evening of the UK Supreme Court ruling, a group of Scottish independence advocates met in front of a pub with the same name.
“I feel like pretty much everything I’ve admired about Britain and England has gone down the drain over the last ten years — when it comes to being a law-abiding country, being the mother of democracy, integrity and independent media, it’s all gone away,” said Gilles Robel, an academic who teaches British studies at a university in Paris.
“I really don’t blame Scotland for wanting out because they feel their voices aren’t being heard by the London government,” he told CNNBreakingNews.net.
At the time of the independence referendum in 2014, Robel was living in Edinburgh with his Scottish husband and was against independence because he knew it would exclude Scotland from the European Union.
“We had heated discussions about this at home! At the time, I thought EU membership was crucial, and that was one of the arguments made by people against independence. But everything has completely changed after Brexit.
“I think this connection with the EU is absolutely necessary, and I believe independence is the only way for Scotland to remain part of the EU now,” he added.
Supporters of independence in Berlin and Munich
Under the lights of the Brandenburg Gate in the German capital, a small group of independence supporters appeared with their Scottish saltires and EU flags on a cold November night.
Felix Hoffmann may be an unusual voice for Scotland, as he has never visited the country. Not yet, anyway.
“I studied in London and what I found really interesting back then was the constitutional issues and the democratic deficit just after Brexit, when Scotland wanted to stay but was removed from the EU. I was shocked and appalled, I would say,” he told CNNBreakingNews.net.
Hoffmann, who works for a German-Syrian civil society organization, said he was also “very concerned” about a progressive government.
“I don’t think the government in London reflects that, but the SNP does.”
The Scottish government is raising its profile across Europe
The Scottish government has been recruiting European partners for years and has a growing diplomatic presence in its network of hubs in Scotland House (the last one opens in Warsaw) and bilateral visits — including recently when the de facto foreign minister paid an official visit to Paris.
Neil Gray, the Scottish Minister for Europe, told CNNBreakingNews.net that people across the continent are watching events in Scotland following the Supreme Court ruling and will “really question the democratic values of the UK and whether it respects people’s wishes when they go to the ballot box.”
Gray, who represents a constituency in western Scotland, said that Europeans respect democracy and understand that people “should be able to determine their own future.”
It will be difficult for the British government and trade union politicians to explain why Scotland cannot hold a referendum when the Scottish people in Holyrood have voted for parties that are committed to independence.
“What is the democratic path in which Scotland can determine its future, and why is the UK now, after all these years, no longer a voluntary association of nations?