THE Scottish independence movement has never been alone on the world stage. Today, 44 members comprise the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), an international body for stateless groups from Catalonia to Somaliland.

Former UNPO members that have won their independence include Latvia, Estonia, and Palau.

While Scotland is not a formal member of the UNPO, several independence movements within it look to Scotland’s story for inspiration. The success of the SNP as the vanguard party for Scottish statehood – from Scotland’s political fringe in 1967 to its party of government by 2007 – has left the world’s freedom fighters taking notes.

One such movement is in Brittany, a nation and territory of 4.8 million people in north-west France where, as of 2018, approximately 210,000 Bretons speak the Celtic language Breton. As a current UNPO member, two parties lead Brittany’s movement for independence – the Parti Breton and the Union Democratique Breton, or UDB.

Gael Simon works as deputy-secretary general of Liberties, Independents, Overseas and Territories (LIOT) in France’s national assembly, a parliamentary grouping containing the UDB and other autonomist movements in France, such as Corsica’s.

Simon is a native Breton speaker, having received a free Breton-speaking education as a child in Saint-Brieuc, north Brittany. To him, as in the Welsh independence movement, language is a core part of Breton identity – though not the only one. In an exclusive interview for The National, Simon touched on many defining features of Breton and wider Celtic identity. We compared a dram of Brittany’s sweet Armorik – the first single malt to be produced in France in 1998 – to peaty Lagavulin; the Breton talabard to the bagpipe; and, importantly, the idea of neighbourhood.

Simon said that while many Bretons see themselves as Breton first, that is often connected to a wider French, Celtic, or European identity. Yet Brittany’s unique history, geography, and industries are what set it apart from centralising politics in Paris.

Like the SNP, the UDB advocate a civic vision of self-determination. Their movement has a strong focus on local government and community, aiming to create “la belle societe” at home through greater powers for the region.

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Victor Gallou, the UDB’s former international relations co-ordinator and vice-president of the European Free Alliance from 2019–22, describes his and Simon’s party as “ecologist, autonomist, leftist”. Gallou showed me a photograph of the pair from a 2019 meeting with the SNP and Young Scots for Independence at the Scottish Parliament.

On the same trip, they joined Fiona Hyslop on the campaign trail in Glasgow. Simon joked about the difficulties of speaking to locals as a non-fluent English speaker.

At a Burns Night supper and ceilidh in Hamilton, they experienced dancing very similar to that in Brittany – but lamented the night’s early end due to Scotland’s dark winter.

The National: Brittany's unique culture sets it apart from other areas of FranceBrittany's unique culture sets it apart from other areas of France (Image: Parti Breton)

Returning to Brittany, they took with them many SNP campaigning techniques that significantly changed the UDB’s direction, such as putting a greater focus on the party’s online presence.

Discussing his role within the UDB, Gallou said he joined the party during widespread anti-recession protests in 2009. He mentioned a strong dissatisfaction across France with established left-wing parties and central politics in Paris.

As in the Scottish Highlands, Wales and Cornwall, the increasing number of holiday homes in Brittany remains a major problem for rural communities and local road networks.

However, Brittany’s voice often goes unheard due to France’s unitary political system and historic repression. Unlike ruling parties, such as President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance, the UDB does not have mega-rich backers – it is a party of volunteers and grassroots campaigners.

Post-Brexit, Brittany’s regional president, Loïg Chesnais-Girard, has strived to maintain cultural and economic ties between Brittany and the UK’s three Celtic nations – Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. According to Gallou, this has not been easy as SNP, Sinn Fein and Plaid Cymru MEPs are no longer in Brussels.

However, informal links via the European Free Alliance (of which the SNP, Plaid Cymru, and UDB are members) remain.

MATHIEU Guihard is president of the Parti Breton, a newer party among Breton nationalists established in 2002.

In a separate interview, he described to The National the different flavours of independence his party offers. Against the UDB’s “autonomism” vis-a-vis central government in Paris, the Parti Breton is “nationalist in the sense of the SNP and Plaid Cymru” and seeks full statehood for a real “Breton nation”.

According to Guihard, most Bretons now see centralisation as a “handicap” to their region. “The idea that we are no longer administered by Paris, that things will be better managed within Brittany, is one that progresses,” he said. This is not just in terms of the Breton language, of which Guihard is a speaker thanks to night classes, but transport, housing, the environment and agriculture.

While the Parti Breton has yet to replicate the UDB’s electoral success (the latter was established in 1964), its vote share has grown in regional elections – from 6521 in 2015 to 15,205 in 2021.

Guihard cites the SNP, as well as JxCat in Catalonia and the Basque National Party as “exemplars” of what his party wishes to achieve – growing from minority parties to mass movements thanks to their putting their countries first “by principle”.

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“What the Parti Breton wants is what Scotland already has: a parliament and government,” he added. “It is the model to follow, and we would like to create more relations with the SNP in future.”

As in Scotland, links between Breton nationalists and ecology are strong. Both the UDB and Parti Breton are allying with French and European environmentalists in upcoming European elections.

Guihard said his party was consulting local farmers and enterprise to develop a renewable energy strategy in Brittany where, until now, Paris’s pro-nuclear energy policy has dominated.

“Kendalc‘hit gant ar stourm”—“Keep fighting!”. Guihard finished, and he urged Scots to strengthen their links with other Celtic nations.