EUROPE is at the core of our independence debate – as it should be. Yet we often end up on the same narrow issues: the Copenhagen Criteria, the budget deficit, the Spanish veto.

We are missing much of the bigger picture. With a new referendum coming, now is the time take our Europe debate to the next level.

That is where Scotland’s EU Blueprint comes in. It is a thorough, 136-page analysis of what it would take for Scotland to join the EU and become a successful EU member.

Sustainable and positive EU membership will depend on the foundations being laid before Scotland even sends its application to the EU Council.

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We must consider EU membership a question of values and interests together. We must answer the question: Why should Scotland want to join the EU?

We can say that being in the EU is good for the economy, brings better EU-negotiated trade deals and provides research funding for universities.

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Those reasons are important and based on Scotland’s interests. But that is not sufficient for pursuing EU membership or, crucially, maintaining a national consensus in favour of it.

We must state our reasons based on Scotland’s values. That we believe that Europe is better when we work together in European friendship and partnership.

That the EU – despite its bickering politicians and fractious summits that end at 3am – is best means we could ever have of getting the states of Europe to cooperate with each other.

That European unity is the best way to achieve a more peaceful, prosperous and free Europe. And that Scotland wants to be part of that.

To participate in Europe’s biggest peace project. To make its contribution to our shared European future. To add its national voice calling for European and global progress.

Those are reasons to join the European Union. We need to hear more of them in our current Europe debate.

On joining the EU, we must be ambitious where we can, realistic where we must. Scotland would have to follow the normal EU membership process, just like any other country. There would be no special route. But – and we must clear – that is not a problem.

Scotland would be one of the most well-qualified countries to ever apply to join the EU.

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Scotland is an advanced democracy with a developed free-market economy and stable institutions. It would be in an extremely strong position to satisfy the Copenhagen Criteria.

On timing, it would probably take Scotland between four and five years to join the EU. The Blueprint recommends that the Government sets a target to EU accession of four years.

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That assessment is reasonable and based what we know about the process, how long other countries have taken and Scotland’s qualifications.

While four to five years is longer than anyone would like, we need to move beyond the idea that this time scale means EU membership is unattainable or achieved only with great difficulty.

Quite the opposite in fact. Joining the EU in four years would be remarkably fast and a sign that Scotland was very well prepared.

Fundamentally, EU membership results from procedures that have to be followed, and they take some time. Even for a state which is well qualified.

Besides, Scotland wouldn’t be joining the EU because it was simple and easy. Scotland would be doing so because it believes in what the EU stands for and wants to be part of it.

If it takes somewhat longer than we would have hoped, it will still be worth it for Scotland and its future.

MORE to the point, Scotland would not exist in a vacuum during that time. Scotland and the EU would have a temporary relationship lasting as long as necessary.

The Blueprint recommends that the Government and the EU negotiate an Association Agreement, based only on EU direct competences, during the transition to independence.

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It would be ready and in place from the moment of independence. The EU has already shown that it can negotiate such agreements with countries and territories which are not fully recognised as independent states.

Once an EU member, Scotland will need to work hard and be clever to become influential. The Blueprint calls for the Government to develop a Post-Accession EU Strategy, a fast-track plan to deliver rapid EU influence.

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As a state, Scotland will set ambitions for itself, for Europe and the world. And then must decide what it will do bring those ambitions closer to reality. Being an EU member will surely be a big part of the answer.

In the Blueprint, I recommend that Scotland’s ministry of foreign affairs be called the Department of European and External Relations.

To me, that reflects the kind of approach which Scotland will need. Focused on Europe, but looking out towards the rest of the world too.

As the Blueprint demonstrates, we should have confidence that Scotland can become an EU member state and punch well above its weight.

Anthony Salamone is a former academic at the London School of Economics who has set up Edinburgh-based political analysis firm European Merchants