DESPITE the ‘global Britain’ rhetoric, Brexit was a profound act of English isolationism, detaching the UK from its European partners. Scotland is now part of that Brexit disengagement, however unwillingly. As European Union politics moves on, can Scotland avoid the distancing from the EU that the UK government seeks and provokes?

EU politics has not stopped with the Covid pandemic. The German elections in September will mark the start of a new era, as Merkel leaves the stage. Whoever wins, it will prove vital to the EU’s future politics and strategic direction. The elections might produce a ‘Black-Green’ i.e. Christian Democrat (CDU)-Green coalition – possibly even with the Green candidate as Chancellor or else the low-charisma Armin Laschet as Merkel’s successor.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has a tricky path to potential re-election next spring – perhaps again facing the far right populist leader Marine Le Pen. Whatever the outcome, the EU will have a new or partly new leadership pair running the vital Franco-German relationship – one no longer balanced by the UK as one of the EU’s ‘big three’.

READ MORE: Brexit five years on: Does fractious UK-EU relationship make Scottish independence more or less likely?

Next year too, the EU’s Future of Europe conference will report. Despite being much critiqued as an overblown talking shop, this gathering of EU27 politicians and consultation with EU citizens aims to set out key reforms for the future EU. There’s no role here for Scotland or the rest of the UK.

More immediately, next week the EU will set out its plans for reducing its carbon emissions by 55% by 2030. These will include the EU’s first carbon border tax. The UK may be co-chairing with Italy the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow this autumn, but, post-Brexit, there’s no UK or Scottish input into the EU’s crucial overarching climate strategy and policies.

For Brexiters all this is doubtless fine – the UK doesn’t need to cooperate with the EU’s 27 member states in finding a collaborative path through the world’s pressing climate challenges. Brexiters are equally sanguine at having no say in the future strategic direction of our large EU neighbour, influential though it will remain on the UK and Scotland’s future, from the economy to security.

The EU offered structured foreign policy cooperation as part of the EU-UK deal – bluntly dismissed by Boris Johnson. And while Johnson may like to tread the international stage alongside France and Germany’s leaders, the petty, ideological refusal of closer UK-EU cooperation is very much little England not ‘global Britain’. Yet what will really matter in the coming period is where the EU vision of strategic autonomy and EU-US transatlantic relations go next, not British posturing.

Scotland cannot simply sit this out as a country that voted against Brexit and whose government aims at independence in the EU. For now, the UK’s loss of voice and influence is Scotland’s too. But there is a wider risk here. Outside the EU, it will become easier to pay less attention to key debates in European politics. English isolationism could encourage, however unintentionally, some Scottish isolationism too.

Certainly, the Scottish government has an EU strategy – a cautious para-diplomacy to promote trade, cultural, educational and wider European relations. That strategy is meant to underline too that an independent Scotland would be a constructive, unproblematic new EU member state. But to get that far, the Scottish government has to sell an energising, optimistic take on what it means to re-join the European bloc of almost half a billion people. And the more disengaged, semi-detached and isolationist politics becomes post-Brexit, the harder that will be.

READ MORE: Ian McConnell: UK is ‘leading through action not rhetoric’ – really Rishi Sunak?

Of course, both sides of the independence divide do have EU debates. But this mainly focuses on whether EU accession is really feasible for an independent Scotland, how hard it might be to reach EU fiscal criteria, and whether accession while using sterling as a currency would be allowed. A few may look a little more widely at the snail’s pace of the Western Balkans accession process and wonder if Scotland would be more welcome.

Meanwhile, in a year’s time, with its new Franco-German couple at the helm, the EU will be well into its €750 billion Covid recovery fund. And the debate on whether to go back to or reform the EU’s strict fiscal and debt criteria (currently suspended until the end of 2022) will also be intensifying. This too may get some attention from the Scottish independence debate.

But only paying attention to EU politics if it impacts on independence is itself a rather semi-detached stance. After all, current SNP policy sees Scotland as a full future member of the EU, a big shift from the rather British exceptionalism version Alex Salmond promoted in 2014 of keeping all the UK’s opt-outs.

The European Parliament is currently challenging the European Commission not to pass Hungary’s Covid recovery package due to its rule of law failures. Migration remains a top EU priority and one that is still damagingly focused on a fortress Europe outlook. Divisions over how to handle Russia were exposed at June’s EU summit. EU politics is not standing still.

The real challenge for those who want to promote strong Scottish-EU links despite Brexit is how to engage across EU politics and not just sit on the sidelines. Scotland may not have its own foreign policy but if it wants to remain a European country then it needs to engage across the board. European politics matters now; it’s not just for the future.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.