Europe is more ready than ever to welcome Scotland

I cannot imagine why anyone would be surprised by the growing proof of the UK Government’s duplicity and desperation in the days running up to the 2014 indyref.

Every string was pulled, every favour called in and every promise made in order to make Scotland’s just and reasonable cause seem eccentric and hopeless. And the same thing is happening again.

But although we need to remain very vigilant, there is some modest cause for optimism this time round. For the strings are much more frayed now, favours due far fewer and the currency of British promises substantially devalued.

In addition, the positive truth about Scotland is being heard more clearly, as is our articulation of the core values we share with Europe.

At home we are all aware of individuals who were staunch No voters five years ago but aren’t any more for a variety of reasons, most often to do with Brexit. Abroad there is similar accumulating evidence of a change in attitude by some of those who were not convinced in 2014.

Herman Van Rompuy, the former President of the European Council, was prime minister of Belgium and, by his own admission, no friend to what he calls “separatism”.

But last weekend in a BBC interview, while not welcoming the break-up of the UK, he made clear his sympathetic understanding of Scotland’s present plight, facing the prospect of being dragged out of the EU against our will.

He indicated that, in his experienced view, Scotland should be able to achieve EU membership provided we followed constitutional due process in securing independence and providing we then successfully worked our way through the normal accession process.

He also accepted that as part of a member state for the past 45 years we did already, in the greatest part, conform to the “acquis”, which in broad terms is the body of EU law and regulations which accession tests or ensures is put in place.

I spent Wednesday at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and I was, as ever, impressed by its seriousness of purpose and its air of mature co-operation.

I also found that the Van Rompuy view is widespread. There is a ready acceptance that Scotland is a likely candidate for membership. Moreover, many would warmly welcome us before, during and after the accession process.

We would of course have to treat that process with the utmost seriousness and, like all prospective members, be prepared to enter into substantive discussion about a wide range of matters in order to come up with the very detailed agreement which would form the basis of the accession treaty.

But this is something that countries far smaller than Scotland have successfully achieved, countries which were often much further from observing the acquis and less attuned to core EU values.

No doubt during accession there would be the usual noises off in Scotland, demanding instant answers to complex debates in order to undermine everything we were doing.

The Tories are already braying about the Common Fisheries Policy and the Euro, treating Scots like children and hoping to frighten us off by waving imagined bogeymen at us. To their shame, the wrongly named Liberal Democrats are echoing those antics.

We should stand firm against such tactics because accession demands quiet negotiation in good faith by cool heads, not repeated dramatic or defensive public assertions.

In the European Parliament debate on Brexit this week, the crass, offensive, in-your-face arrogance of the Brexit Party – echoed by the Tories – struck an ugly, discordant note.

It demonstrated to every EU nation that many in Britain no longer know how to work effectively in Europe nor even understand the need for civilised dialogue. That is their sad failure.

Scotland must now demonstrate that we can rise with dignity to the opportunity of being an equal partner in the positive task of building a progressive continent.

That’s far better than continued decline as a powerless province on an insecure, and sometimes embarrassingly aggressive, empire-obsessed, backward-looking island.

This article originally appeared in The National.