ONE of the most notable features of the Brexit debate was its relentless focus on economics and trade. Both are important, of course, but European integration is much more than just commerce and the EU is much more than just a market.

The EU is a community of values. It is a union for European co-operation, friendship and solidarity. It is an alliance for working together to meet common challenges, from climate change and sustainable societies to geopolitical shifts and now pandemic recovery.

Having values is not about being flawless. The EU has internal problems to be faced, in its institutions and in member states, including issues we probably thought we would have resolved by the 2020s. It’s not about pretending we are perfect, but affirming we aspire to be better.

The EU is a commitment that we remember our European past of conflict and division, and that we choose to build something better for ourselves and for future generations. European unity is a powerful answer to our troubled common history.

Beyond the single market or the customs union, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU was so deeply regrettable precisely because it was an emphatic rejection of those values. And, despite the UK’s Government’s futile efforts to suggest otherwise, that’s exactly how Brexit is viewed by the member states.When it comes to independence and Scotland’s relationship with the EU, we must avoid that trap of only thinking in narrow and transactional terms.

Joining the EU would never just be about trade. It would be about the kind of Europe that Scotland wants. How we would benefit from the EU and also how we would contribute to making it succeed.

Surely we would want an independent Scotland to be an active participant in shaping the future of Europe, not standing on the sidelines as the EU moved forward without us?

The only way for Scotland to play that full European role is to join the EU. The alternatives, few as they are, prove themselves to be insufficient for a nation that wants to regain what was lost from Brexit and to chart a European future.

The obvious pitfalls of instead joining the European Economic Area (EEA) via the European Free Trade Association (Efta) are well rehearsed: being outside the room when EU decisions are taken; implementing EU laws despite having no say over them; paying an equivalent EU budget contribution anyway.

I have seen it suggested in our debate that Norway has influence in steering what the EU does. I must tell you – that is incorrect.

Joining Efta alone would give Scotland a relationship with Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. We would need a separate relationship with the EU – if it were willing, considering that we had rejected the obvious and convenient options for the EU. That would be a highly uncertain path, which could end in a UK-style minimal deal.

To be clear: if Scotland wants to join the EU, then we join the EU. The EU, EEA and Efta do not form some interchangeable menu where we can swap one for the other whenever it suits. Each is a definite path to a different destination. Becoming an EU member would be a major constitutional decision for Scotland and it would be important for the people to have their say. A referendum should be held – once the negotiations had finished, so people could vote with the full detail of potential Scottish EU membership at hand.

Fundamentally, we would have to decide what kind of state we wanted an independent Scotland to become. If we truly believe in those European values, then the answer is simple: Scotland belongs in the EU.

Anthony Salamone is the managing director of European Merchants, the political analysis firm in Edinburgh, and author of Scotland’s EU Blueprint.