IN Brussels, the organisational centre of the world’s biggest trade and electoral project, minds are shifting to meet new political realities. Scottish independence, previously a topic of caution, is now being re-examined after the Brexit vote gave it fresh legitimacy among European policy makers.

At the same time, quietly and carefully, an engagement campaign is being built meeting by meeting to construct a route for Scottish membership.

In just a single week, four separate events in Brussels emphasised Scotland’s continuing commitment to the European project. Already there are signs that the country has gained new recognition from those close to the processes of accession and treaty status.

“The friendliness towards Scotland has been overwhelming,” claims SNP Europe spokesperson Stephen Gethins MP, after speaking at two public briefings on the government’s position.

First a room of journalists are given a presentation by himself and MEP Alyn Smith.

Gethins is then on to the Committee of the Regions, an EU institution that engages beyond current member states. On every table attendees receive a map of the Brexit result: Scotland stands out in the bright yellow colours of remain.

He suggests that keeping Scotland in the EU is an important task for European democracy. “What kind of sign does it send out if you throw out a country against its will?” says Gethins.

The next day “Scotland the Brave” echoes through a Brussels square. A young piper Scott Blance is welcoming more than 150 guests to a celebration in Scotland Europa, the government’s Brussels HQ.

Formally, the event is a yearly bash to mark cooperation. But the activity also aligns with wider plans to remain engaged in EU projects, and the new diplomatic push to preserve Scotland’s place in Europe. Only a few days pass before members of the Scottish Parliament’s European committee arrive for further meetings with contacts in the Belgium capital.

Yet all this is early days. Various sources in Brussels see the possibility of a win-win situation for Scotland, whereby either a special status is acquired through the Brexit talks or the ground is prepared for full independent membership. But neither route is simple.

Crucial questions for Scotland’s place in Europe include how and when any UK exit is concluded. A so-called “hard UK Brexit” (outside the single market without free movement of people) would create substantial issues for the Scottish Government to negotiate. A deal for Scotland would also be required before Brexit is finalised, otherwise negotiations would face the tougher legal hurdle of applying from outside the EU.

Alyn Smith MEP has been one of the most high profile politicians during early Scotland in Europe efforts. He has held more than 55 meetings with groups from across Europe. Primarily, his focus has been within the European Parliament – the 751 members representing the people of Europe.

“After the speech I made there’s been a willingness from people to reach out,” he says.

“On a weekly basis I’m speaking to hundreds of people.”

The parliament’s standing ovation for Smith was an early show of solidarity with Scotland. But what about the European Commission, the permanent representatives of member states, and the EU national leaders in the council? Where is the support from those crucial sources, who will determine the terms of Brexit and any Scottish membership?

“There is an awareness of what we’re about in a way there wasn’t in 2014,” Smith replies. “The best comment I got from anybody was from a senior, senior, top person within the institution here who texted me to say ‘I very much appreciated your first minister’s comments, as did my daughter who studies at Glasgow University.’ That’s real.” Such interactions are behind the scenes for now, ahead of a future PR drive – with Smith putting together a multi-lingual communication team to approach every European community over the summer period.

Much of the formal diplomatic work will be handled by the Scottish Government, with leadership from Nicola Sturgeon and minister for Europe Fiona Hyslop.

There has already been a recognisable shift in thinking since 2014 to build on. The influential European Policy Centre reported that “the EU should prepare to welcome Scotland as a member”. German vice-chancellor Sigmar Gabriel agrees. The Slovak prime minister, currently holding the presidency of the Council of the EU, signalled a willingness to discuss the transition to Scottish independence. Irish leader Enda Kenny also intervened on behalf of Nicola Sturgeon at the first post-Brexit meeting of EU heads of state.

The latter example is part of a new Celtic Alliance that has emerged as Scottish and Irish national interests have come together in defence of open borders and trade.

Sean Kelly, the lead MEP for Fine Gael, in government in Ireland for five years, says the Brexit vote has changed his party’s view of Scottish independence.

“Pre-Brexit we wouldn’t have wanted it [independence] to happen,” Kelly admits. “But in the situation that exists now, the UK have landed themselves in this situation. You’d have less sympathy for them if Scotland decides ‘We want to be in the EU’.”

Fine Gael sit within the European People’s Party – by far the largest parliamentary group, which includes the leading power in the EU project – Angela Merkel’s German CDU party.

Would there be widespread support for Scotland in Europe after independence? “I think if Scotland voted in a referendum to leave the UK and became a sovereign nation then the EU will welcome them with open arms,” Kelly says.

Sinn Fein MEP Lynne Boylan echoes this emerging Celtic Alliance. “I think we do have to work together,” she says. The party’s MEPs have been “talking to group leaders, so they can bring the message back to their countries” about Irish and Scottish EU interests. Like Kelly, however, she finds it hard to see a route for a formal status within the EU for Northern Ireland or Scotland without unification with Dublin and independence from London.

THE early messages of sympathy with Scotland from senior politicians across the continent and Sturgeon’s meetings with the commission come years before any final agreement on a UK or English exit.

David Martin, Scotland’s most senior MEP of 29 years service, foresees a protracted “long, long process” of disaffiliation that could run on for up to six years – well beyond the time limit mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 50.

“Article 50 itself is only about the nitty-gritty of withdrawal. It’s not about your future relationship,” he explains. “That’s a separate negotiation.” Martin also expects a third process for a domestic transition between current EU laws in the UK, and the new systems that replace them.

The three challenges create an interlinking legal and political quagmire for Westminster to navigate, a process for which Theresa May’s administration hasn’t even yet published a strategy.

Where power would lie within that unwritten process is still unknown. What is clear is that key players – the European Commission, the European Council, the European Parliament, the UK Government, and member state governments – are all willing in principle to recognise Scotland’s unique position after the Brexit vote.

In any circumstance Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, will have a significant role. Tusk’s connection to Scotland goes beyond his first name.

In 2007, when campaigning successfully in the Polish elections, Tusk addressed a crowd of Polish nationals in Beveridge Park, Kirkcaldy.

A Polish political source close to the president’s team remarks: “He remembers it [his Kirkcaldy visit] well and supports Scotland.” Could the old Scots-Polish link, which dates back centuries, make a difference?

Several high profile Polish colleagues of Tusk – aware of that shared history with Scotland – have already expressed support for Scottish EU membership.

Much can change during years of negotiation. Early media reports, for instance, claimed that French president Hollande had rejected separate discussion with Scotland, yet a French advisor in Brussels firmly dismissed those reports.

The long road to Scottish EU membership, and diplomatic attempts to find allies across Europe, will require all the nous a Scottish Government can muster. Fortunately for them there are already hundreds of individuals with Scottish connections experienced within European institutions, other state governments, and political parties to draw upon.

Eóghain Mitchison has worked with the European Commission, the banking sector, and now a high-power lobbying group. He speaks six languages, including Scots Gaelic. Previously cautious on the topic of independence, he is now passionate about the country staying in the EU.

“A lot of people here are pro-European. That’s why I think it [the Brexit vote] changes everything. I’m very firm now. I think Scotland should stay in the EU. I think independence is the best way of doing that,” he explains.

It’s the same mood he detects among clients, who think independence could contribute to wider European stability.

The early Scottish overtures and responses from continental counterparts reflect the embryonic state of the Scotland in Europe process.

Where once there was caution there is now widespread sympathy, and among some even an expectation that independence is the likely outcome.

Whether Scotland achieves a promoted status in the EU ultimately depends on future political will in Brussels and London – or whether the Scottish public make the way forward a whole lot clearer with an affirmative response to a second independence referendum.