FRANCE’S consul general to Scotland, Laurence Pais, is thankful that people from her country are “really welcomed and loved” by Scots – but clear that Brexit has created challenges for Europeans here.

Pais has held the highest-ranking French diplomatic role in Scotland since September 2019, having previously served in Bucharest, Oslo, Ottawa, Barcelona and Brussels.

Departing the post this month, she has had time to reflect on her time here. Pais said: “As French citizens, we are really welcomed and loved in Scotland. We are never criticised. I have not read an article against the French while in Scotland and I know this is not always the case everywhere in the UK.”

Pais recognises the reciprocal feeling between the two countries: “French people love Scotland. The planes are always full. Scotland has an amazing image of nice, welcoming people and of course nature.”

However, Pais notes the changing climate since Brexit. “Certainly, there are fewer students and fewer people coming for just a couple of months in the summer – maybe remaining for a few jobs,” she said. “For students, it is certain this is because it is so expensive to study now.

“We still receive as many questions as before from people wanting to come and live or study in Scotland but it’s more difficult so I don’t think they can se lance à l’aventure [throw themselves into an adventure] as before. In the past, people would come and open a business, open a restaurant, open a cafe or a bookshop, saying, ‘We will come, and then we will see if it works out’. It is impossible now.”

Pais says the new regulatory environment brought about by a Brexit that Scotland did not vote for discourages French entrepreneurs from coming to Scotland, citing additional barriers of working visas, administration costs and for students, the removal of the Erasmus+ higher education scheme.

READ MORE: Most Scots know the effects of Brexit have been totally negative

She gives as an example a French couple whose dream was to create a comic book store in Edinburgh but who have been delayed by three years due to new post-Brexit procedures.

“It is definitely not for the faint of heart,” Pais said. “And if you are not that determined, three years is a long time, especially if you have a family and if there are other places you can invest.”

She also acknowledged the unique economic contributions an independent Scotland could potentially make to Europe.

She said: “Scotland could contribute to the environmental projects and in the space industry where you have a lot of opportunities and competencies.

“Renewable energies and all the experience and experiments that are happening in Scotland are valuable. Also, the way of living together and a culture that seems to be tolerant and welcoming of diversity and an open society.”

Pais went on: “I always meet people telling me how much they regret being out of the EU and how much they want to come back.

“I think that is something that makes Scotland so popular in France, the fact that a majority of Scottish people want to remain European and did not vote for leaving – and also that the Scottish Government has been vocal about this.”

Angus Robertson, the Scottish Government’s External Affairs Secretary, said: “Laurence Pais has been a tremendous advocate for her country and the Auld Alliance.

“The centuries-long friendship between Scotland and France is as strong as it ever was, in no small part due to her efforts as consul general to promote trade and cultural exchange between our countries.

“We are blessed to have such good relations with France and as strong a friend as Laurence. I wish her all the very best for the future.”

READ MORE: BBC looking into issues raised by Russell Brand allegations

Pais is also the director of the French Institute of Scotland. Based within the consulate in Edinburgh, it hosts an extensive French language library, runs language classes and holds cultural events such as Vive le Fringe, French and Francophone shows, that run throughout Edinburgh’s Festivals.

Last year, Vive le Fringe hosted Stevensongs, a musical adaptation of the letters and poems of Robert Louis Stevenson. This year, the consulate hosted A Portrait of Ludmilla as Nina Simone – a spoken word and jazz/soul play commemorating the singer.

“The shows have been very well received,” Pais said. “Nina Simone was fully booked every night. This year, we did not have one act throughout the festival but many different acts that came to Edinburgh for five or 10 days each.”

Scotland made a major impression on Pais when she was a child. She said: “I spent some time with an English family as part of a linguistic trip and they took us up to Scotland.

“That was my first contact with Scotland I loved it. I was young but it really made a strong impression – the nature, the lochs, everything.

“This family became my second family in a way and when I was a student, I spent a year in the West Midlands. I had another trip to Scotland that confirmed I loved the people and the nature.

“So, when I entered the diplomatic service, the career I had in mind was that I would have a post in the UK. Each time I had the possibility to apply to a new role, Edinburgh was not available. Finally, I had a posting in Barcelona and I decided to leave early to take up the role in Edinburgh.”

Pais is moving to a new role in Brussels. She said: “I hope I am leaving a bit of myself in Scotland. I am leaving behind one of my daughters who is staying in Glasgow – so I will be back. I think Scotland will remain very close to my heart.”

Pais advises her successor to get to know Scots by “going to the pub, taking part in a ceilidh, and making sure to travel outside of Edinburgh”.

She has been replaced by diplomat Stephane Pallier who was until recently the deputy director of the sustainable development department at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs.