CAN an independent Scotland rejoin the EU as a new state in its own right – and if so, how fast can that happen? It’s a question that will doubtlessly be posed by many Remain-voting Scots next Friday, when our country is dragged out of the European Union by Boris Johnson. Surprisingly though, it’s also been asked (repeatedly) during the last ever press trip to Brussels – and not just by writers for this paper. Cagey European civil servants managed to duck definitive answers. But during this week’s short, final trip to Brussels, one thing became crystal clear.

Scotland will miss out from the day we leave the EU as a powerless part of the UK until the day we re-enter as a vigorous, upbeat independent state and its newest member.

Till then we’ll miss out on big, new, progressive projects the EU will now deliver without us; miss out on the solidarity that comes from belonging to a union which – despite its faults – believes social protection is a defining feature of being European; and miss out on the massive leap in confidence that comes from sharing responsibility for the world’s biggest social, environmental, health and economic problems.

If you doubt that in any way, regard the success of our Celtic cousins.

Over in Brussels, the Irish are kinda bossing it. The big states of France, Spain and Germany still call most of the shots. But Ireland punches so far above its weight, it’s inspiring and depressing to behold all at the same time. Because that could have been Scotland too.

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Take Ireland’s commissioner to the EU, Kilkenny man Phil Hogan. He runs its vast trade portfolio. His right-hand man is Tom Tynan, originally from a dairy farming background in the south-east of Ireland but now a cabinet member, responsible for technical barriers to trade, biotechnology, agriculture, maritime affairs and fisheries, and research and innovation. Tynan also oversees EU trade relations in Korea, Turkey, Singapore, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, Denmark, Ireland, Netherlands, Finland and Sweden. Despite the epic scope of his job, Tynan’s still got the friendly, straight-forward manner that characterises the Irish and managed to remember a visit to the fishing communities of Peterhead and Fraserburgh with precision and some fondness.

OK, the Irish have a habit of making difficult jobs look easy.

But that’s a talent Scots will not have the chance to develop within the European community, until we have the confidence to go it alone.

The Scottish press met another impressive Irishman, Daniel Ferrie. He was the commission’s Brexit spokesperson for three long years, working beside chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Now he’s spokesperson on banking and financial services, taxation and customs, briefing EU politicians who must decide if the City of London’s big financial companies should be granted “equivalence” post Brexit to let them keep operating in Europe.

But “equivalence” can be terminated by the EU with just 30 days’ notice - such is the uncertainty the City of London now faces. Meanwhile, the EU is developing other capital markets in Frankfurt and Paris. 

If Scotland had voted Yes in 2014, the name of Edinburgh would be added to that list.

Not now. Not unless we get weaving.

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It's an open secret that continuing access to Scotland’s fishing grounds will be up for discussion during Brexit trade talks. But officials insist there will be no trade for City of London access to European financial markets. Can our fishing communities trust that?  If Scotland had voted Yes in 2014, some fishing access might still be traded, it’s true. But it would be traded for something that directly benefits Scots – not London fat cats.

Not now.

Scan the list of key staff at the European Commission and other Irish names stand out. Dermot Ryan, communications adviser and trade cabinet member; Paddy McCullough, communications adviser to the jobs and social rights commissioner; Tom Moylan, speechwriter; Enda McNamara, press officer. Across in the European Parliament, Mairead McGuinness MEP was recently re-elected vice-president of the European Parliament with a whopping 93% of MEP votes.

Coming across all these powerful Celts 10 days before Scotland’s enforced exit from the EU is a bittersweet experience.

It’s great to see so many top jobs being held by confident, articulate folk from a neighbouring country that’s smaller than Scotland with fewer people, fewer energy resources, and an even more difficult history. Here are the Irish, right at the heart of the European project, mixing easily, charming effortlessly and talking with energy and authority about future plans that (mostly) would be a perfect fit for progressive Scotland.

But not now – because we are out.

And this new, evolving, European world will soon be a foreign country for Scots.

Indeed, no matter what polite sympathy these top EU bureaucrats showed to the dozen Scots journalists who made the final press trip this week, one thing was clear.

Scotland doesn’t figure in their future plans for a nanosecond – and that won’t change until we’ve had a legal vote to become an independent state.

Northern Ireland got a special deal and will keep an EU presence. But although Scots voted even more emphatically to Remain, no similar deal has been done for us.

READ MORE: Brexit: Scotland snubbed in key talks as Northern Ireland has say

Scots were leaders in the team that created the Europol database that helps police track people traffickers and terrorist movements across Europe. But neither Police Scotland nor any other British police force will now be able to access that vital database, or the even more useful Schengen Information System, after Brexit. In fact, British data is being removed right now from the EU’s “interoperability” database which uses biometric information to stop identity theft – and the data of EU citizens is coming out of British databases.


The contrast couldn’t be starker.

While the genial Irish civil servants collected their briefing notes and hurried off to other top-level meetings, the Scots employed as non-permanent staff by the European Commission face uncertainty when their contracts come up for renewal. Then, they might be clearing desks, leaving flats, and looking for new jobs – just as EU staff working in Britain have quietly been doing since 2016.

Leaving the EU may be an abstraction for most of us in Scotland. But in Brussels, the week before Brexit, it’s a very harsh reality.

Of course, we’ve all known the end was coming for some time, but never-ending postponements by a succession of Tory leaders have created a strange sense of unreality. Scots understand the symbolic importance of being forced to leave the EU against our will and can all-too easily imagine the horror of being walled up alive with Boris Johnson for the foreseeable future, without the EU’s steadying presence.

Spontaneous protests are being organised all over Scotland on Brexit Day next Friday, to let everyone know this removal is happening against our collective will.

But then what happens?

Our Celtic cousins keep planning the future of Europe.

EU members carry on with big ambitious projects – creating a European Education Area by 2025, so diplomas from neighbouring states have mutual recognition; creating the first carbon neutral continent, introducing air pollution controls and investing in the circular economy; tackling states and groups that subvert democracy and elections by ensuring each user has a unique IP address and, of course, trying to conclude trade negotiations with Britain by December.

In all of this, Northern Ireland will be protected. Scotland will not.

Until we vote for independence.

The sad lesson of Brexit Day is as powerful and as simple as that.