The Scottish imprint on Montreal is unmistakeble; it’s everywhere. The civic coat of arms has a thistle on it. The financial district rings to the names of the Scottish businessmen - Angus, Ballantyne, Cameron, McGill, Torrance, McTavish - who turned this fur trading station on the St Lawrence river into one of the great cities of the world. The oldest golf club in North America was established here by and for the Scots diaspora. You wonder what Scotland might’ve been like today had these capitalist adventurers never left.
However, the official language here is not Scots but French and the politics of the province has been dominated for the last thirty five years by attempts by the Parti Quebecois to turn Quebec into an independent francophone state. To leave the Canadian Federation that was itself founded by a bibulous Glaswegian, John A MacDonald, in 1867. Quebecers don’t seem to see any contradictions here and celebrate their Scottish connection even while seeking to turn themselves into the new France of North America. Indeed, the social democratic Parti Quebecois has long sought to identify with the Scottish and Catalan civic nationalist movements, if only to define itself against the more racially-oriented right-wing nationalist movements of Europe like the French National Front of Jean Marie Le Pen.
Quebecers are immensely proud of their success in turning their province into the most open and egalitarian region in North America. Immigration has been encouraged - though newcomers are obliged to send their children to French=speaking schools. Quebec has a welfare state that has largely been immune to the wave of North American neo-liberalism. Parents enjoy universal daycare at $7 a day per child - that’s about £4.50. Taxes are higher than in the rest of North America, but no one seems to complain very much about that. Quebecers fiercely reject the claim, made by Canadian federalists, that the national question and independence referendums have damaged the economic and social fabric. Economic growth has lagged the rest of Canada in recent years, as has population growth, and there are fears that an ageing population could damage future prospects. But Quebec living standards have improved greatly relative to neighbouring Ontario over the last thirty years and “La Belle Province” is 17th in the OECD on economic performance and 13th in income per capita. Looking around prosperous cosmopolitan Montreal, it’s hard to believe the picture painted by UK unionists of Quebec as an introverted and impoverished provincial backwater poisoned by cultural narcissism. We should be so lucky.