AN independent Scotland could still join the EU within "four to five years" of applying for membership after a Yes vote despite social, political and economic changes in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic , according to a leading European expert.

Writing for tomorrow's National, Dr Kirsty Hughes (below), director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations, made the assessment as she warned this timescale would only be possible if the country remained broadly in step with the bloc's laws and was not "economically unstable".

"In the difficult economic times ahead, the EU will not want to bring in too fast any accession country whose economic situation does not look fairly robust. Nonetheless, if Scotland had not diverged too far from EU laws, and was not in an economically unstable state, then a four to five year accession time horizon is still feasible - as has been argued in a number of Scottish Centre on European Relations’ reports," she said in a blog posted today.

The National:

She noted the 500 billion euro pandemic recovery fund spearheaded by French's President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel and raised the prospect of greater political integration among EU members in the years ahead.

Hughes suggested in the coming years people in Scotland faced a new choice between being part of a "rather lonely third country like the UK" or becoming a fully committed EU state.

"The debate in Scotland over independence in the EU – rather than being in the European Economic Area or being a rather lonely third country like the UK now is – has not always been very deep on the future of the EU or the merits of further political integration," she said.

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"But it needs to start to factor this in. The EU, not least with the UK having left, may well look rather different in a few years time. Opting to be on the EEA sidelines with Norway and Iceland would look like a timid position.

"But being part of a more politically integrated EU is something Scottish opinion would need to be positive about and engage with as Europe and the wider world evolves in the post-Covid era."