With Labour heading for victory at the next General Election, better EU-UK relations are one expected result. Yet Sir Keir Starmer’s minimalist strategy of tinkering with the existing hard Brexit deal doesn’t suggest serious change in the UK’s European approach, although the mood music may improve.

Even so, might any EU-UK reset impact on those, including the SNP, who still aim for independence in the EU? Will more positive, constructive EU-UK relations bode ill for the EU’s better understanding, post-Brexit, of the motivations for Scottish independence? Or will European issues remain a strong dividing line between Labour and the SNP? After all, Sir Keir’s refusal to consider rejoining the EU’s single market and customs union let alone the EU itself is clear, despite public opinion in England being anti-Brexit now too.

Relations with the EU have improved already under Rishi Sunak, not least due to the Windsor Framework that ended the stand-off over the Northern Ireland Protocol. The UK Government is currently in talks with the EU to rejoin Horizon, the major European science programme, though with hard bargaining over the cost. So, a Labour government may not change much.

Read more: Starmer puts English Brexit voters before UK's interests

But EU capitals will doubtless breathe a sigh of relief to see the back of the Tories and the Brexit damage and chaos they led. And the small changes that Sir Keir is likely to go for, such as aligning with EU veterinary standards, may make a noticeable difference in some areas. Brussels will also welcome the relative calm of dealing with a government and party that was not pro-Leave in 2016, albeit now accepting of Brexit – and one without a hard core of MPs wanting more not less Brexit.

Yet, the UK will still sit, much weakened, on the sidelines outside the EU. And a Labour government will face tough EU bargaining over amendments to the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement, when it’s reviewed in 2026. There will be related, challenging, talks over fish and energy too, both due for review before mid-2026.

Will more normal EU-UK relations pose a serious challenge to arguments in Scotland for independence in the EU? Economically, the case can still be made for the benefits of being in the EU’s single market and customs union. Politically, the arguments for being an EU member state at a time of global change and uncertainty, are strong – including having a seat, vote and voice at all the relevant tables.

The arguments against, not least the challenge of an EU border between an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK, will remain too. Yet, ironically, anything Labour does to ease the challenges of Britain’s border with the EU will also ease the costs of a future independent Scotland-England border too. Any closer UK alignment to EU rules would be a plus all round.

So, the real questions here are political. Will Scotland’s current relations with the European Union become more difficult once a Labour government is in power? Or will the case for a relatively smooth, rapid accession to the EU after an independence vote be more difficult to make? Or is it just about minor improvements that can benefit Scotland and the UK as a whole?

On the first, there is no reason to expect Scotland’s relations with the EU institutions or member states to become more difficult. The Scottish Government’s office has been established in Brussels since the 1990s. And the EU is well used to dealing constructively with third countries and their regions and sub-states.

Labour’s constitutional proposals for the UK suggest Scotland could have more powers to agree international deals in devolved areas such as the EU’s youth mobility scheme, Erasmus. This may be small beer, but it might represent a change following the Rishi Sunak Government's hostility to the Scottish Government’s rather normal external relations activities.

Improved EU-UK relations already mean there’s a substantial if prosaic to-do list keeping Scottish Government officials busy. There’s work under way on immediate Scottish priorities such as Horizon and on future priorities for the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) review. The Scottish Government is engaged, participating in the EU-UK partnership council and submitting written evidence on improvements to the TCA to the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee this April. There’s also a new Scottish Government international and European strategy in the works due later this year – and too, the much-delayed paper on independence and EU accession.

So, the Scottish Government looks set to continue a three-part approach: trying to influence the UK’s EU relations in specific areas, managing direct Scotland-EU relations, and maintaining its goal of independence in the EU.

Could better EU-UK relations mean a more negative stance from Brussels on Scottish independence in the EU? Brussels and member state governments always insist on neutrality on constitutional matters, not least of a third country. Brexit probably shifted that neutrality somewhat towards the more positive, compared to the negative-leaning "neutrality" seen from Brussels in 2014. It might shift back. But with the UK no longer a member state, it’s unlikely to return to where it was in 2014. And it’s not on Brussels’ radar for now.

Read more: Prospects for an independent Scotland rejoining EU are positive

In general, EU governments are not that keen to see the UK fragment despite post-Brexit sympathies for Scotland. And their views, despite more support in parts of the European Parliament, and from the wider public, are unlikely to change much.

But the EU is both highly political, and quite pragmatic. If, by whatever route, Scotland chose independence in a democratic, legal process agreed with the UK, then the EU would have no reason to impede the accession of a small, northern European country that was once inside the EU.

The two crucial questions underlying where these political dynamics go next, are how well or badly Labour and the SNP perform at the upcoming general election. And what happens to public opinion on independence. But unless support for independence lessens substantially, or Labour suddenly backs re-join, then the EU will remain a key part of the independence debate.