A FORMER foreign policy advisor to the late Robin Cook has insisted Scotland joining the EU and Nato as an independent state is the "best way" for the country to contribute to international affairs in the wake of Russia's full scale invasion of Ukraine.

David Clark, now a consultant on foreign affairs, highlighted The Herald's front page article today which reported the views of Dr Jonathan Eyal, an associate director of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) in London.

RUSI was approached by The Herald to speak to one of their analysts to assess the SNP claim made on Friday that delaying Indyref2 would be "grist to the Kremlin's mill".

READ MORE: Ukraine: 'Indyref2 in 2023 would delight Putin' says war expert

Mr Eyal did not agree with the argument made by the SNP MSP Rona Mackay saying the Russian President Vladmir Putin would be "delighted" if a second independence referendum was held next year as it would divert the UK's attention.

But Mr Clark rejected Mr Eyal's arguments. 

"The choice for Scotland in the face of Russia’s war against Ukraine is clear to me. What is the best way for Scotland to contribute to the strengthening of multilateral institutions that form the essential underpinnings of Western unity? There are arguments both ways on this," he tweeted today.

The Herald:

A view to the site of an explosion as a result of a missile strike into the shopping mall on March 21, 2022 in Kyiv, Ukraine. As Russia's advance on Kyiv has largely stalled, the Ukrainian capital has continued to be hit by missiles and shellfire. Photo by Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images

"My own view, as another solitary foreign policy analyst, has only been strengthened by Putin’s aggression. In the context of Brexit, Scotland’s best contribution can be made as an independent member state of the EU and Nato."

READ MORE: Alexander Bortnikov: Could FSB spymaster be in line to replace Putin over Ukraine?

Speaking to The Herald Mr Clark, who was a special advisor on Europe, Russia and Nato, to Mr Cook from 1997 to 2001 when the Scottish Labour MP was Foreign Secretary, said: "I think it is right that all the focus is now on Ukraine, but we have no idea what next year will look like, it is far too early to say that a referendum is off the agenda or definitely on the agenda. 

"I think I sense from the SNP's response to the Covid crisis they understand that issues of timing have to relate to world events. However, I think it's important that we don't get into the business of allowing Putin to disrupt normal politics. 
"That in a sense would also be a victory for him."

He added: "I don't think it's necessary to speculate at the moment if a referendum is taking place next year. We will know next year if conditions are such that we can begin to think about normal politics again.

"I sense from some people that an attempt to bounce the issue. Those who don't want a referendum are trying to kill the idea that a referendum is possible next year as they don't want it to happen at all.

READ MORE: Ukraine war: Zelensky offers to end NATO ambition to stop conflict

"And in that sense the crisis is a convenient thing so they can say 'let's put this to one side and forget about it. That concedes too much to Putin's ability to disrupt our politics."

The Herald asked Mr Clark whether it was not understandable for Scots to know now if there was going to be a referendum next year.

He said if there is going to be a referendum in 2023, then voters should be told by the end of this year.

"A long campaign suited the SNP in 2014 and no doubt a long campaign would suit them this time as well," he said.

"And the issues need to be debated at length."

READ MORE: SNP: Suspending independence vote over Ukraine would be 'grist to Kremlin's mill'

He added that he believed the SNP had changed politically since 2014 with a stronger pro-EU and pro-Nato outlook now than eight years ago.

"There is a SNP leadership that is very committed to making the maximum contribution to western institutions, Nato and the EU. Independence might make Scotland have a more constructive contribution to foreign policy," he added.

Phillips O'Brien, Professor of strategic studies at St Andrews University, expressed a third view.

He told The Herald: "The Johnson government will almost certainly not grant a referendum during this parliament, and Scotland cannot take the risk of trying to run one for many reasons (would make EU entry almost impossible)."

Mr O'Brien added that if Scotland became independent Nato would welcome it as a new member.

He was asked by The Herald how long he thought the war would continue and responded that the Russian military operation was under considerable pressure and western sanctions also hitting the economy at home.

"I don't know how long Russia can keep it up. The army that is in there now is going to be worn out pretty soon. Are they going to send a new army and despatch a much larger force and try again?

"Their economy is going to come under enormous pressure. So it's a really tricky question. If you were looking at it rationally you would say they should be trying to find a way out as soon as possible, but Putin is so committed to it that maybe he will press on for longer."

He added that one of the long term consequences of the war could be a "more active" EU military operation especially if Germany remains committed to higher defence spending.

Asked about the prospect of an independent Scotland joining Nato, Mr O'Brien said: "Most Nato countries probably don't want the United Kingdom to break up because the United Kingdom has been a part of Nato and the major European player since 1949 when Nato was founded.

"I think the question is would they accept an independent Scotland? And if an independent Scotland were a positive member of Nato then yes they would find a way to accept it."

Ian Blackford, the SNP's Westminster leader, said on Sunday that the war in Ukraine should not result in plans for a second Scottish independence referendum being pushed back as he appeared to row back on a suggestion they may be paused in light of the invasion.

His comments came as a former senior member of staff within the SNP claimed it is “unlikely” a ballot on Scotland’s future in the UK will take place within Nicola Sturgeon’s preferred timeframe.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has repeatedly said her intention is to hold another referendum by the midway point in this Holyrood term – although the UK Government remains against such plans.

Kevin Pringle, who was a special adviser to former first minister Alex Salmond and held key roles within the SNP and the Yes Scotland campaign, said it is “unlikely” there will be a fresh vote on the issue by the end of next year “given the hurdles to be overcome”.

The Scottish Government is currently updating its prospectus for independence from that set out ahead of the 2014 vote.

Both the SNP and the Scottish Greens will also draw up their own proposals for why Scotland should become independent.

The two pro-independence parties agree that an independence Scotland should join the EU, though do not agree on Nato membership.

The SNP believe an independent Scotland should join Nato, while the Greens do not support this prospect.