BEING a “steadfast friend” to the rest of the UK should be the “single biggest objective” for a newly independent Scotland, a former MP has insisted.

In a blog for UK In a Changing Europe, Stephen Gethins has said beyond regaining EU membership, a leading priority for an incoming Scottish foreign secretary should be to reassure the UK that Scotland cares about being an ally.

Gethins – who was once the SNP’s spokesperson for Europe and international affairs – added that investing in diplomatic resources and potentially setting up a public diplomacy campaign for England could even help Scotland in its journey to secure EU membership.

He said: “Given public opinion, one of the first priorities would be for Scotland to seek EU membership at the earliest opportunity.

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“That said, the immediate priority of a newly established Scottish foreign ministry would lie within these islands.

“After independence, it will be important to reassure the UK that Scotland remains a steadfast friend and ally.

“That would be the single biggest objective of an incoming Scottish Foreign Secretary and would help unlock other potential challenges.

“Scottish Ministers would be at pains to reassure the UK that it had ‘lost a surly lodger and gained a friendly neighbour’.

The National: Stephen Gethins said maintaining friendly relations with the UK post-independence could help Scotland secure EU membership Stephen Gethins said maintaining friendly relations with the UK post-independence could help Scotland secure EU membership (Image: Newsquest)

“That would require an investment in diplomatic resources as well as a campaign of public diplomacy to reassure a potentially sceptical English public.

“That would also assist in securing EU membership. The Scottish Government could even argue it could act as a bridge to the UK to help rebuild EU/UK relations since it would be, along with Ireland, the member state with the closest links.

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“That may not be simple. Some in the UK and EU will sense an opportunity to bring the UK closer to the Single Market, since it will now have two land borders with the EU, and Scottish independence will have dealt another blow to an already creaking Brexit project.

“Independence will trigger a difficult debate in England about its own place in the world with consequences for its neighbours.”

Given the UK’s ongoing divergence from the EU, Gethins said different foreign policy visions were emerging in Holyrood and Westminster, with opinion polls indicating that the choice between different unions and distinctive global outlooks are among the “primary catalysts” for independence.

While he insists the twin challenges of securing EU membership and maintaining friendly relations with the rest of the UK will be the most significant priorities post-independence, he did also use his blog to emphasise the importance of Scotland taking security responsibilities seriously, with Nordic neighbours watching the constitutional debate closely.

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Gethins added: “In the aftermath of the war in Ukraine, Scotland will want to show that it takes its security responsibilities seriously. For the EU states bordering Russia, that will be even more important than Scotland’s relationship with England.

“In many areas of foreign policy an independent Scotland would seek inspiration from its neighbour to the south-east, Ireland. However, on security, Scotland’s Nordic neighbours in the north west provide the most useful template.

“Scotland’s strategically important location means these allies will be watching the debate carefully: Scotland would commit to early membership of NATO, and need to illustrate it takes threats to European democracy seriously.

"On Trident, it is unlikely that the UK would want to leave its entire nuclear arsenal on the territory of another sovereign state, and negotiations would be undertaken swiftly to ensure their removal as quickly as safety allows.

“Scotland will be well-placed to contribute to broader European security priorities such as food and energy. But further afield, Scotland would need to learn to prioritise.

"That means streamlining and working with others in terms of embassies and consulates and crucially Scotland needs to decide where it brings added value as a fully-fledged international actor.”