As Auld Lang Syne is sung in the European Parliament, what are Scotland’s European choices post-Brexit? Scotland remains a European and a pro-European country.

But will it and can it rejoin the EU? And can it stay close to the EU in the meantime, even as Boris Johnson takes the UK in an uncharted, but divergent and damaging, direction?

There is no immediate get-out for Scotland from the damage Brexit has already done and will continue to do. But there is scope for Scotland to carve out a partially separate European strategy. 

The tortuous Brexit years have had one impact on Scotland’s image in the EU.

Scotland is now clearly identified as a pro-European country and one whose politics, notwithstanding debates about independence, looks rather normal in contrast to the desperate Westminster Brexit politics of the last few years.

It won’t be easy to build on this positive image now Scotland will be a sub-state within the UK and outside the EU. But there are opportunities.

For example, Holyrood can, indeed must, now develop a new agriculture policy and decide too if it will align to key EU environmental rules.

Some in Brussels ask, a tad optimistically, whether Scotland, by aiming to align with EU environment rules, could impact positively on environment “level-playing-field” issues in the coming EU-UK Brexit talks – or alternatively whether Scotland, like the EU, could be at risk of “climate dumping” from England and Wales.

The European Commission has put its Green Deal at the heart of its new strategy – its goals are a huge, systemic transformation within Europe to tackle climate change and to impact on global climate geopolitics.

In Brussels, there is keen awareness of the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November, and interest in the Scottish Government’s role – as well as awareness of Edinburgh-London stand-offs that might impact on the summit mood.

There is a chance to deepen EU relations with the EU here.

There is also wider interest as to whether Scotland will choose independence in the EU.

Such an outcome is uncertain but looks more likely than the UK rejoining the EU in the next decade or so. And compared to 2014, the EU mood is now more open and constructive. 

If there is a legally, constitutionally valid vote for independence in the next few years, then Scotland could apply to rejoin the EU. Talks could be relatively swift if there hasn’t been too much divergence from EU regulations. Meeting the pre-talks criteria of being a well-established democracy and functioning market economy should be straightforward.

There are, certainly, unique characteristics that Scotland would have in such an accession process. First, it would be a newly independent state aiming to rejoin a Union it had already been in as a sub-state for 47 years. Second, there would need to be a transition from the date of independence to the time of rejoining the EU that may need to be specifically tailored for the newly independent Scotland. Third, the future UK-EU relationship will also be impacted on by Scotland leaving the UK – not least but not only in the neuralgic area of fisheries.

So there are political and not just technical issues here that will impact on some of the much-debated areas of currency, the potential deficit and borders as well as – so far – less discussed questions of transition.

It’s hard, for example, to see how an independent Scotland could show it was targeting price stability and treating its exchange rate with the euro as a “matter of common concern” if was using sterling.

But if there was a clear transition policy – whether to its own currency or, eventually, to the euro – would this cause delay to re-joining the EU? This may ultimately be a political choice in Brussels.

Now Brexit is actually happening, it is time too for a serious discussion on what the Scotland-rest of UK border would look like if Scotland was in the EU. On current trends, there would be a rather patchwork set of borders across these islands. 

An independent Scotland would have an open border with the Republic of Ireland (both being EU member states). It would have a largely open border with Northern Ireland (with its special status effectively in the EU’s customs union and in its single market for goods but not services). And its border with England and Wales would be the external border of the EU facing customs and regulatory checks – though, like Ireland, probably still benefiting from the common travel area, so not taking away rights to live and work across the UK and Ireland.

Some hope there are ways round this border conundrum – but short of staying in whatever UK-EU deal is struck (and in that case what would “independence” mean), there is no simple solution (not via the European Economic Area like Norway or any other route).

In the end, Brexit is and will be increasingly disruptive. It’s a major systemic change. It changes Scotland’s European choices, and its impact on Scottish policy will reverberate for years and decades to come.

Dr Kirsty Hughes is Director at the Scottish Centre on European Relations