Last week saw the first meeting of the Standing Council on Europe which the First Minister established to provide the Scottish Government with expert advice on how Scotland’s interests can best be protected following the EU referendum.

Our role is simple: to provide advice on a number of key issues, ranging from how Brexit might affect the Scottish economy, to how it might impact on our society, and how this impact might be minimised or avoided.

Brexit could have a deleterious effect on the Scottish economy if it threatens our access to the single market. Around £11 billion of our exports are directed towards the biggest free-trade zone in the world – the EU. Despite arguments to the contrary during the campaign by the Leave side, the single market is unique in the world, particularly in lowering non-tariff barriers and trade costs. In addition, about half of the foreign direct investment into the UK comes from other EU countries, creating jobs and wealth.

But Brexit also brings in sharp relief the need to protect the rights of all citizens living, studying and working in Scotland. Important social protections stem from the EU, and our citizens enjoy an unrivalled freedom of movement across the European continent.

In addition to understanding the impact of Brexit in all its forms, on areas ranging from international collaboration in science and technology to consumer and business confidence, our role is to provide advice on the best way forward.

The situation thrown up by Brexit is highly uncertain and subject to change. Those who advocated Brexit themselves appear to have no blueprint for the UK outside the EU. We will provide the best expert advice as the situation evolves over the next few months and years, and the prospects and choices for Scotland and the UK become more apparent.

The First Minister has made it clear the Scottish Government will do all it can to maintain our valuable relationship with the EU. Scotland and the UK face a complex and fast-moving situation. Talks and eventually formal negotiations between the UK and the EU institutions will move quickly now that a new UK government has been formed.

Scotland has to be able to influence these discussions; both prior to the start of Article 50 negotiations, and after Article 50 is invoked by the UK Government. The Scottish Government can draw on the expert advice of the standing council on a range of legal, diplomatic, and economic matters. We will provide that advice in a flexible and responsive way, to meet the needs of the Scottish Government, which will change throughout that process. Given the fluid nature of the informal inter-governmental dialogue around Brexit the standing council’s work will not be primarily through formal plenary meetings or by publishing lengthy reports. Instead we will work adaptably in smaller specialist groups, drawing where necessary on additional expert contributions from outside the council.

There is also no expectation members of the standing council will arrive at consensual positions on all areas we consider, as the UK and the EU enter uncharted waters. The council is non-partisan and members will have their own individual views on priorities, and indeed on policy choices.

Our role will be to look at all practical options to secure Scotland’s relationship with the EU. The EU’s structures have evolved over time to meet different political and economic imperatives, and will continue to do so in the future. We will bring our experience to bear to see what existing or new structures and arrangements can best help protect Scotland’s interests.

But our work is not only to advise on legal or constitutional matters. Engagement, both in the UK and within the EU is important, as the First Minister herself has demonstrated in the last few weeks. We will provide guidance on Scotland’s positive engagement with the EU member states and institutions in the wake of Scotland’s Remain vote. This sends an important message to our EU partners on how our social values in Scotland strongly echo those of the EU. Indeed, this is a time when Europe needs more, not less, common purpose.

Ultimately the Standing Council on Europe can only provide impartial advice and counsel. It will be for the elected Scottish Government to make judgments on difficult policy choices in a series of complex negotiations. But on our part as a standing council, we will do our utmost to provide the government with the best evidence and expertise that we can to frame those choices.

Glasgow University Principal Professor Anton Muscatelli is chairman of the Scottish Government's Standing Council on Europe.