ONE of the images that will help define 2016 was captured last week during the EU summit in Brussels. In it, a palpably forlorn and disorientated Theresa May is trying to maintain her dignity while every back is turned on her. The British Prime Minister looks like a desperate adolescent at a party looking for a winch which will never happen. Already, it seems, Europe is giving notice to the UK of what Brexit will actually mean in reality: “You will be an outsider and you will have to work hard before we even deign to listen to you.”

This might not have mattered all that much if Britain could have clung on to its embarrassingly one-sided special relationship with the US. What magic still remains in that curious arrangement though, will surely disintegrate in a blast of Donald Trump’s hairdryer.

The picture of a British Prime Minister being literally and metaphorically cold-shouldered in Brussels could soon also become one of the defining images of the long and winding road to Scottish independence. Just consider this for a moment: if a post-Brexit UK is to become a pariah nation, one that is gleefully and routinely humiliated on the world stage, then where does that leave Scotland?

In the aftermath of the independence referendum the actions of the UK Conservative Government and its allies at the top of the Labour Party were contemptuous of this country. The now widely discredited English Votes for English Laws was another way of saying: okay, now that you’re back in your box we adults can now converse in peace and quiet. The tightening of the austerity noose around working class communities in Scotland; the go-ahead to bomb innocents in the Middle East; the final betrayal of the steel industry: this was what we got from Westminster as a reward for voting to stay within the United Kingdom.

In the meantime we had to endure the sickening rise of UKIP and the descent of the Conservative Party during its autumn conference into the racist swamp. So long, though, as the UK remained in Europe then Scotland could yet belong to something bigger which could keep the reactionary and inhumane instincts of a Tory Government in check. The dignity of Labour and the right to be paid fairly and to work in decent conditions would always be protected while Britain remained within the EU.

Within that arrangement Scotland’s reputation as a country happy to open its doors to those fleeing war and torture overseas has soared. Scotland needs to grow its population to meet the future pressures of an ageing population. As an inward-looking Tory Government in England sold lies to its own people and retreated further inwards, Scotland was eager to open itself to fresh blood; different colours and new ideas. While Britain remained in Europe progressive Scotland would always feel that there was some unity of purpose with most of the other 27 EU states.

But how will Scotland be regarded as part of a unitary state that has chosen to cut itself adrift from Europe? We will have the status of the Plover Bird, which cleans the teeth of the crocodile. Few other countries in Europe would be considered less significant than Scotland – for no country, other than Wales would carry the black spot of being both outside of the EU and be unable to make the biggest decisions about its own destiny. Yet, that is precisely what an entire army of Unionist commentators and mendicant snake oil economists would seem to want for the country that they purport to love.

Unionists are already fearful about what Brexit will mean for the constitutional future of the UK. Since June 23 they have attempted to paper over Theresa May’s absence of leadership over Brexit by portraying it as troubling also for the SNP Government. This was never going to wash and yesterday’s thrust by Nicola Sturgeon over Scotland’s future in Europe has been several months in the making. In the Scottish edition of the London Times yesterday two columnists variously described pro-Scottish independence supporters as ‘insane’, ‘batshit doolally’, ‘fundamentalist’ and ‘zealots’. You know you’re onto a winner when the Unionist Light Brigade re-heats all the old abjurations from the final weeks of the 2014 independence referendum.

Nicola Sturgeon is outflanking Theresa May, a leader who is looking increasingly out of her depth, on what Brexit should look like for Scotland. Indeed Sturgeon’s comments could apply equally to the rest of the UK: “Analysis shows the cost to our economy of a hard Brexit, outside the single market, could be around £11 billion a year by 2030, with an independent forecast of 80,000 lost jobs in Scotland and a cut in average earnings of around £2,000 per person after a decade.

“But it is not just the loss of existing jobs and investment that would be at stake. In addition, there is the prospect of lost investment and employment – money and jobs which our place in the Single Market would ensure but which would otherwise never materialise.”

Thus, what has been a good year for the cause of Scottish independence has ended on a high just a few weeks after the Supreme Court judges airily dismissed the idea of the UK Government requiring to seek Holyrood’s consent for triggering Article 50. Iain MacWhirter put it most succinctly in his Sunday Herald column two weeks ago: “The UK Government wanted to suggest that Holyrood could not have its powers altered by legislation in Westminster, when in fact sovereignty had been very firmly retained or “entrenched” in Westminster. In short: the UK Government decides what is normal and what isn’t.”

This was the year when we saw the UK Tory Party kidnapped by the forces of the extreme right and its autumn conference resemble a Ukip rally. It was the year when Scotland, a country which needs more immigration, was dragged out of Europe by people shouting No More Immigrants.

It was the year when Sajid Javid, the Communities Secretary, called for public office holders to swear an oath of allegiance to British values. He said these were: democracy, equality and freedom of speech.

Without the protection of the EU and its guarantee of the European Convention of Human Rights, Scotland will once more be faced with getting its ‘democracy’, ‘equality’ and ‘freedom of speech’ handed down to it once more.