Their numbers were few, but the backdrops were among the most iconic in Europe.
In the hours after Britain’s Supreme Court handed down a ruling that stops the Scottish government from holding a new referendum on independence without approval from London, supporters in cities across Europe gathered to wave Scottish flags and make their voices heard.
At Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate, in front of Rome’s Colosseum, and at the Auld Alliance pub in Paris — a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower — European friends of Scotland had a point to make.
“It was a message of support mainly towards the Scottish people in saying we haven’t forgotten [former MEP] Alyn Smith’s appeal when he said Scotland didn’t let Europe down with the Brexit vote, and we shouldn’t let Scotland down. So we are keeping our word as European citizens,” said Sarah De Sanctis in Rome.
De Sanctis was one of about 20 people who got together at short notice in the Italian capital, many with personal connections to Scotland, to show solidarity with the pro-independence supporters at 14 rallies around Scotland; and half a dozen across Europe.
“I was living in London when Brexit happened and I was disappointed. For me, the UK was always progressive and open and Brexit was honestly heartbreaking,” she told Euronews.
“Combined with my love of Scotland” — where she met her South African husband and got married — “it was the perfect opportunity to do something for a country I really really love, and will hopefully lead to the undoing of Brexit as a result,” said De Sanctis, who works as a freelance translator.
Describing the UK as “sort of a constitutional prison” — a sentiment echoed on several recent posts on the 4,000-strong “Italians for Scottish Independence” Facebook page — De Sanctis noted that the UK was able to leave the EU, whereas Scotland now is being told it can’t even hold a vote on whether to leave the UK.
“The Supreme Court decision was disappointing, but it doesn’t need to stop the independence movement, in a way it makes it stronger,” she said.
Paris supporters celebrate the Auld Alliance
The Auld Alliance between France and Scotland dates back to the end of the 13th century, a notion of diplomatic, cultural and people-to-people ties that has endured more than 700 years.
So it seems only fitting that a group of Scottish independence supporters met outside a pub with the same name on the night of the UK Supreme Court ruling.
“I feel that pretty much everything I admired about Britain and England has gone down the drain over the last ten years or so — when it comes to things like being a law-abiding country, the mother of democracy, integrity, an independent media, all this has disappeared,” said Gilles Robel, an academic who teaches British studies at a university in Paris.
“I really don’t blame Scotland for wanting to get out, because they feel that their voices are not heard by the London government,” he told Euronews.
At the time of the 2014 independence referendum, Robel was living in Edinburgh with his Scottish husband and was against independence because he understood it meant that Scotland would be left out of the European Union.
“We had heated discussions at home about it! At the time I felt that membership of the EU was vital and that was one of the arguments used by people opposed to independence. But after Brexit, everything changed completely.
“I feel this connection with the EU is absolutely essential, and it feels like independence is the only way for Scotland to remain a part of the EU now,” he added.
Independence supporters in Berlin and Munich
Under the illuminations of the Brandenburg Gate in the German capital, a small group of independence supporters showed up on a cold November night with their Scottish saltires and EU flags.
Felix Hoffmann is perhaps an unusual voice for Scotland, given that he’s never visited the country. At least, not so far.
“I studied in London and what I found really interesting at that time were the constitutional issues, and the democratic deficit already right after Brexit, when Scotland wanted to stay but was taken out of the EU. I was shocked and appalled I would say,” he told Euronews.
Hoffmann, who works for a German-Syrian civil society organisation, said he also cares “deeply” about progressive government.
“I don’t think the government in London reflects that, but the SNP does.”
Scottish government raising its profile across Europe
The Scottish Government has been courting European partners for years, with an expanding diplomatic footprint in its network of Scotland House hubs (the latest will open 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 Euronews that people across the continent will be looking at the events unfolding in Scotland after the Supreme Court ruling “and will really be questioning the democratic values of the United Kingdom and whether it respects the wishes of people when they go to the ballot box.”
Gray, who represents a constituency in the West of Scotland, said that Europeans respect democracy and understand that people “should be able to determine their own futures”.
The UK government and unionist politicians, he added, will have a hard time explaining why Scotland cannot hold a referendum when the Scottish people voted for parties in Holyrood that are pro-independence.
“What is the democratic route by which Scotland can determine its future, and why is it now after all these years, that the United Kingdom is no longer a voluntary union of nations?”