« If only we’d thought about our national identity like you did »

Il y a un mois, 4 millions de personnes descendaient dans la rue en réponse aux attaques terroristes. Une démonstration d’unité nécessaire mais qui venait bien tard, à quel prix, et pour quels conséquences concrètes? La prochaine élection présidentielle est dans deux ans et on verra bien qui va profiter du climat actuel.

Je publie ici le billet que j’ai signé à chaud pour le journal écossais The National dans lequel je mets en parallèle la qualité du débat sur l’indépendance de l’Ecosse et l’absence de perspective d’avenir en France. Un point de vue bien difficile à faire entendre de ce côté-ci de la Manche.

Ensuite je reviens à mes parfums, promis.

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« When I followed the referendum on Scottish independence last year, I was impressed by the quality of the debate. It was mature, well-informed, respectful. People made up their mind according to their own beliefs and understanding of the issues.

It was a positive display of free speech and free will. What struck me the most was that it was an inclusive debate : all residents of Scotland over 16 took part in it, be they French, Italian, Pakistani or English. It was a breath of fresh air.

Meanwhile in France, the air was thick with worries from people out of work, with the feeling of political impotence, with the fear of losing power in Europe and in the world, with the lack of prospects in deprived neighbourhoods.

The far-right National Front party came first in the European election with a scapegoat ideology. Polemicist Eric Zemmour voiced the opinion of many by ranting about same-sex marriages leading to the end of our civilization.

All the time I was thinking : how can a strong and rich democracy lose confidence in itself so much ? Why can’t we have the same positive debate as in Scotland about our strengths and assets in a globalized economy? Why can’t we unite around a common project to face the challenges of this complicated world ?

We came close when former president Nicolas Sarkozy launched a debate on national identity in 2009. But it ended in protests against halal school meals and street prayers and was swept under the carpet.

No wonder most French media didn’t really understand what the Scottish referendum was about. They were only really interested in it when the Yes came first in a poll 10 days before the vote.

First they thought it was about cultural identity -bagpipes, kilts and William Wallace. When they understood it was about politics -calls for social justice, fewer Conservative MPs than pandas etc- they deemed the Scots selfish and irresponsible. I’m not talking about all media. But it was very hard to have a different view heard despite our common history since the Auld Alliance.

Now France is having a massive conversation about its future in the wake of a devastating attack on free speech, police and the Jewish community. Politicians, teachers, journalists, police forces, the justice system, clerics, all institutions have a part to play in that debate, including ordinary citizens.

It is a wake up call to remind us that democracy is not a given, it is an ongoing process that always needs to be fought for. Like you did in Scotland, under very peaceful circumstances. Like you are still doing, in the run up to the next general election.

Why it took 17 deaths and many injured in France to come to the same realization is hard to stomach. »

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