IT is Scotland’s “destiny” to return to the European Union as Scots have always felt “part of something bigger”, speakers at a key conference on the UK’s future have said.

At the Break Up of Britain conference in Edinburgh, activists, politicians and journalists joined together to discuss Scotland’s forced “divorce” from Europe following the publication of a Scottish Government white paper on an independent Scotland in the EU.

The paper outlined the benefits of Scotland joining the bloc as well as what Scotland could do for the EU such helping member states to achieve sustainable energy security.

It sparked a deep discussion at the conference on whether Scotland can afford to not be part of EU as speakers attempted to answer whether Europe can really be complete without Scotland.

French journalist and author Assa Samaké-Roman told the audience it was Scotland’s “destiny” to be part of Europe as she stressed how a lot of people in France don’t feel the enforced separation in 2016 makes sense.

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She said: “For me, divorcing Scotland’s destiny from Europe is just impossible. European leaders echo this sentiment as well.

“When he was a presidential candidate, Emmanuel Macron in 2016 declared  Vive l'Écosse Européenne – long live European Scotland. Other figures in French politics emphasised it would be a mistake to close a door to Scotland, recognising that EU enlargement is welcoming countries into a community.

“From a French point of view, it wouldn’t make any sense at all [for Scotland not to be in the EU]. Charles De Gaulle came here in the 1940s to say that the friendship between France and Scotland was one of the oldest friendships in the world’s history, so for a lot of French people it would just make sense to welcome Scotland back into the EU.”

Samaké-Roman spoke to the crowd about how she felt the Erasmus programme had had a huge impact on her life after allowing her to take up studies at the University of Edinburgh 13 years ago.

She said that by being forced out of the EU, Scotland was now losing out on a plethora of opportunities for cultural exchange and collaboration.

“Erasmus made me who I am today,” she added.

“I came from a working class town in the centre of France, there was no way my parents would have been able to afford tuition fees in this country so Erasmus for me is about breaking down social barriers in a very natural way.

“When we talk about Brexit, the doors that were once open for countless opportunities for collaboration and cultural exchange have been slammed shut. Tossing away something special, for me, is really, really unfortunate.

“When we ask if Europe can be complete without Scotland, for me it’s more than numbers and stats and geography, we’re talking about shared ideals and values that bring us together.”

SNP MP Alyn Smith, who was an MEP for 15 years, said it stills grieves him “on a daily basis” that Scotland is no longer a part of the EU.

He said: “I think one of the reasons Scotland voted significantly for EU membership was because we’ve been used to being part of something else and being part of Europe was quite comfortable for us.

“Getting back into the European Union is an integral part of our quest for independence. It was underpinning everything in 2014. It wasn’t necessarily front of house, but 18 months later it really was.”

Describing the EU as “a thing of beauty” and a “peace-building mechanism”, he encouraged those who remain sceptical of Scotland joining it to consider the country has never had the chance to be a member state as an independent nation.

He said he wanted an independent Scotland to be strengthened by its membership of the EU as he believes Ireland was in key Brexit negotiations.

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Smith added: “For those who might be sceptical about the EU - and many on the left are – [I would say to them] we’ve never had independence in Europe. We were represented in the EU by an arms-length Westminster apparatus.

“If you want to see what independence in Europe looks like, look at Ireland. Ireland grabbed it and it became part of Ireland’s identity and political culture, and in the EU in the post-Brexit negotiations, for the first time in the best part of 1000 years, Dublin had the upper hand against the former colonial power because it was one of the 27.

“If that discussion had been happening just across the islands, I have no doubt the Good Friday Agreement would have been binned, I have no doubt the special status in Northern Ireland would not have been maintained.

“So that European influence, that European identity has boosted Ireland’s sovereignty. That’s the sort of independence I want for Scotland.”