SINCE the SNP’s landmark “Independence in Europe” policy was crafted in the late 1980s, the party has articulated a vision of an independent Scotland working constructively with its European neighbours. Nicola Sturgeon stood by that policy throughout the Brexit saga and was right to do so.

Many European nationals, who in 2014 might not have appreciated the arguments for Scottish independence, are suddenly finding themselves in full agreement with them. Similarly, many of those cautious and canny pro-European No voters who are forced to choose between the UK and the EU now see independence as a less risky option than Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain.

That’s why it’s so important to reassure these new converts to independence – who are undoubtedly part of the pro-independence boost seen in recent opinion polls – that Scotland will rejoin the European family of nations.

For more than 30 years, the SNP’s policy on Europe has been one of its most consistent and most effective. Indeed it was this policy that attracted me to the party as a student. But the UK has now left the European Union and the transition period will end in a few months. Denouncing Brexit and the damage it will do to Scotland’s economy while simultaneously proclaiming our pro-European identity is no longer enough.

Scotland needs a strategy on how it will rejoin the EU – or at the very least the single market, in line with just about every other country in western Europe. That’s why I’m calling for a Commission on Scotland’s Future in Europe to be set up by the end of the year.

It would bring together experts in European affairs from Scotland, Brussels and beyond to examine the options available to an independent Scotland – including full EU membership and Efta/EEA membership. It would build on the Scottish Government’s “Scotland’s Place in Europe” paper, which outlined the avenues available to protect Scotland’s national interest – albeit written in the context of Scotland being part of the UK.

While I’ve always argued that Scotland’s interests are best served as a full member of the EU with our own commissioner, a seat at the European Council, double the MEPs, civil service representation and a judge on the European Court of Justice, it is right that the full spectrum of options are considered.

In addition, the commission would be tasked with publishing a recommendation and a route map on how an independent Scotland will re-establish its economic and political relationship with Europe. It will provide realistic advice on the challenges and opportunities of accession; including, for example, the negotiation of opt-outs, borders issues with the UK, accession criteria as well as associated timings.

FINALLY, and perhaps most importantly, a commission would send a strong signal to our European partners that we’re serious about re-uniting with the continent. Unionists have long – and wrongly – argued that the SNP’s pro-European stance is nothing more than a tactical move to achieve independence. The commission would allay any fears in Brussels of our true intentions and potentially help speed up a future accession process.

The commission’s report would also play its part in refreshing the SNP’s now outdated policy on Europe ahead of the 2021 Scottish Parliament election – thus giving voters clarity and reassurance on our European strategy. It would reflect the reality that Scotland now finds itself outside the EU and is seeking to rejoin its neighbours as an independent country. That refreshed policy should include a clear commitment to hold a confirmatory referendum on Europe within the first two years of independence. This commitment will speak to Eurosceptic independence supporters as well as those who argue and Europe are issues that should be considered separately.

Let’s say, for sake of argument, that an SNP-led government opted to rejoin the EU. A membership application would be submitted to the European Council following the legal establishment of a central bank, a financial regulator and other key institutions.

Accession talks could take around five years so this process should begin as quickly as possible, following approval from Scotland’s independent parliament. The longer we are outside the EU, the more complicated our accession as an independent country will be – because inevitably, as part of Brexit Britain, we will deviate from the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria.

It would not be necessary to wait for the outcome of the confirmatory referendum before beginning accession talks. In the unlikely event the Scottish people voted against EU membership, the accession talks would simply come to a halt as was the case with Norway or more recently Iceland.

Some have argued Scotland could hop into Efta temporarily and later hop out to join the EU. The flaw with this argument is that the accession process for Efta could be as lengthy as accession into the EU, and it would send all the wrong signals. Efta would be reluctant – as a non-expansionist organisation – to amend its rules for a country that explicitly only intended to join for the short-term. Scotland must therefore make a committed choice early on – hence the need for a commission on Scotland’s Future in Europe and a refreshed party policy.

Westminster politicians often point to the challenge of the transition period – whereby Scotland would be out of the UK and not yet in the EU. But they forget that Scotland will continue to be part of the UK economy for a period agreed by both governments following a Yes vote.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Government would not only submit a membership application, it would agree an ambitious association agreement with the EU, granting Scotland associate EEA membership and therefore access to the single market from the moment that Scotland left the UK. These agreements are longstanding EU treaties that create privileged links with third countries. In Scotland’s case, it would bridge the gap between independence and full EU membership.

The whole point of independence is to give Scotland the choice to carve out its own future. That includes the opportunity to shape its European and foreign policy, out of Westminster’s shadow.

Our future must not be limited to what we accepted in the past. That’s why our policy on Europe urgently needs an upgrade. The time has come to imagine ourselves as an independent country.