SCOTLAND has been outside the EU for a while and it still feels strange.

The disconnect from the rest of Europe will never be normal nor welcome.

Scotland remains a pro-European country with a pro-European government. Yet I fear Scottish society is already becoming used to life outside the EU.

The transition is providing continuity with the EU, but that will not last. The coronavirus health challenge is rightly occupying public attention, but the difficulties of Brexit remain.

No clear route exists either for Scotland to participate on its own in EU programmes such as Erasmus, if the UK declines to join them as a third country. It is also hard to imagine London working constructively on paying for Scotland’s participation in them.

The Scottish Government is working to maintain alignment with EU laws and policies where possible and that is important. Yet we must do more to prevent drifting away from the EU.

It is human nature to become accustomed to new circumstances over time. That will be true even for Brexit, despite its enormity and our rejection of it, unless we remain proactive.

If we are to protect Scotland’s place in Europe over the long term, we need intellectual resistance to Brexit. We must resolve, collectively and individually, to sustain and develop our European values, connections and outlook.

READ MORE: Could an independent Scotland join the EU after Brexit?

In this Brexit era, Scotland is now one of many nations seeking to engage with the EU from the outside. It is a crowded space and EU partners have many competing priorities. From now on, Scotland will have to take the initiative to keep its European links. It will require continuous effort and strategic thinking for years to come.

In their absence, the default is that Scotland will fade into Europe’s political background. European goodwill cannot ensure Scotland’s relevance unless it is well harnessed.

We must face this post-Brexit reality with open eyes and take every possible step to protect Scotland’s EU connections. I proposed a number of such measures in Scotland and the Spirit of Europe, the launch report of European Merchants.

One recommendation was to use the European flag more. The Scottish Government started flying it outside its St Andrew’s House and Victoria Quay offices on Brexit Day and is still doing so.

That is a powerful statement, not least to EU citizens in Scotland and European visitors to the Scottish Government. It is just as you would see at government buildings across the EU.

The Government should go further to showcase its European orientation. It should rename its External Affairs Directorate as the European and External Affairs Directorate. This name would give Europe greater visual prominence. It would underline that European relations are not considered external, especially for an aspiring EU member like Scotland.

Symbols are only part of the equation. Nevertheless, they hold important meaning, reflect shared values and set the stage for better cooperation.

Scottish society should intensify its engagement on the major questions facing Europe. For instance, the European Commission published a new EU Industrial Strategy this week. The industrial strategy connects to debates on the role of European industrial champions, the sustainability of the European social model and making the EU a geostrategic actor.

The Government’s recent publication on Scotland’s contributions to the EU strategic agenda provides a solid basis for working with the EU on these kinds of issues.

Now the focus should be to embed that European approach across all parts of government – on economy and fair work, climate change, democracy and more.

Scotland should increase its cooperation with country holding the rotating EU presidency (currently Croatia), in Brussels and its national capital, to work on the European agenda.

European leaders, including European Commissioners and national politicians, should be regularly invited to Scotland for national dialogue on the future of Europe. All of these efforts will stand in marked contrast to the UK’s confused approach. They are good for Scotland and the EU, and they represent what normal European countries do.

Scotland has a time-limited opportunity to build a unique and close relationship with the EU from the outside, through government, civil society, business, universities and beyond.

By translating European sentiment into European action, we have the chance to avoid becoming used to Brexit and to best position Scotland for independence in the EU.

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