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Is new Asterix Scotland's next Braveheart?
The latest Asterix book, set in iron-age Scotland, is to be released on Thursday amid speculation that the story will reflect – if not influence – the country’s long-standing debate over independence from the United Kingdom.
The latest outing of indomitable French comic-book hero Asterix takes him north to visit the Picts, in iron-age Scotland, a savage land that never bowed to Roman domination.
Even if the details of the book “Asterix and the Picts” remain a closely guarded secret ahead of Thursday’s release, the new publication has aroused a great deal of interest in modern Scotland.
Its arrival will be relished by the country’s pro-independence movement as the countdown begins to next September’s referendum on whether Scotland should stay or leave the British Union.
The pro-independence "Yes Scotland" campaign said in a statement that it was “animated by an endorsement from such a prestigious character but, as ever, we would have to check that he is registered to vote".
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the “Better Together” pro-Union movement joked that the book was “obviously the boost the ‘yes’ campaign has been desperately waiting for”.
The Scottish independence movement is certainly in need of some good news: an October 10 TNS poll gave the pro-union campaign 44 percent, ahead of 25 percent who said they would vote to leave the union.
Book ‘reflects Scottish political trends’
The 35th instalment in the Asterix saga is also the first by new author Jean-Yves Ferri, who travelled to the University of Glasgow in June to promote the book.
“Ferri told us that a major theme in Asterix and the Picts would be the disputes between clans, and that the story openly reflected Scottish political trends,” Laurence Grove, a professor at the University of Glasgow and president of the International Bande Dessinée (comic books) Society (IBDS), told FRANCE 24.
But Asterix is also a universally recognised symbol of resistance, Grove said, who helps those under the yoke of the dastardly Romans achieve victories over the oppressor with the help of a few drops of the series’ famous magic potion.
“Asterix is the little guy who stands up to the bully,” he said. “In the Goscinny and Uderzo [the original creators of the Asterix series] era, France was resisting the invasion of American culture, it was saying ‘no’ to membership of NATO.
“And Ferri came to visit Scotland as the referendum looms. It isn’t just the future of Scotland that’s at stake, other countries are affected too. There were many Catalans in [his] audience, and they too are interested in independence [from Spain].”
‘Flirting’ with independence
The importance of the comic book’s possible tie-in with the independence question was played down by Scottish journalist Nick Drainey, writing in The Times, who said that while Asterix may “flirt” with the independence question, the book would certainly not be an endorsement of the “yes” vote.
Contacted by FRANCE 24, Drainey said: “Of course there are some similarities between ancient Gaul and Scotland, but Asterix has never been a political figure.
“Like William Wallace [a 13th century Scottish hero who fought the English, as played by Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”] he does fight for independence, but just on a personal level.”
The Edinburgh-based journalist said he was amused that the forthcoming book had become a feature of the referendum debate.
“But it isn’t really taken seriously,” he said. “I really don’t think Asterix is going to influence the vote.”
And if the pint-sized hero from ancient Gaul fails to influence the future of Scottish politics, the publisher can at least take heart from the interest generated by the book – not least by its translation into Scottish Gaelic.