SCOTLAND is being urged to ramp up preparations for rejoining the EU, including by expanding its presence in Brussels, ahead of a new independence paper.

Speaking at the SNP’s South Scotland Regional Assembly in Dumfries, First Minister Humza Yousaf confirmed that a forthcoming paper on the issue of Scotland rejoining the European Union will go into more details on the Border.

It comes as it has been ­suggested preparations for going back into ­Europe should be ramped up, ­including increasing the number of officials in the Scottish Government’s Brussels office.

Stephen Gethins, professor of ­international relations at St Andrews University, said ministers could also visit Brussels and member state capitals more frequently, while an “audit” of the institutions necessary for EU membership should be carried out.

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The former SNP MP told the ­Sunday National undertaking as much preparation as possible could enable Scotland to rejoin the EU as quickly as Finland, which has had the most rapid accession at two years and seven months.

Gethins pointed out Scotland had previously aligned with EU rules for nearly half a century, but said work can be done before any ­application to join the EU is submitted.

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He said: “Because Scotland hasn’t been independent since the 18th ­century, there are areas that although it would be aligned with the EU very closely … there would be some ­challenges, some areas that need to be overcome.

“Some of the questions I would ask would be if you want Scotland to be a member of the EU within the next five years or even 10 years, is the ­office in Brussels currently big enough to meet that ambition?

“I say this with a full ­understanding of how stretched the civil service is, how the Scottish Government has very restrictive resources, both in terms of numbers of officials and also in terms of diplomatic recognition.”

He added: “Also what kind of levels of political engagement should you be looking at – Scotland is part of third country at the moment, so it needs to work harder than ever in terms of both engaging with European institutions and European partners even at an informal level.

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“Again I would say this with all recognition with how restricted ­ministers are in time – are ministers visiting Brussels enough, again with a recognition they have got important constituency and parliamentary and ministerial responsibilities at home?

“What kind of engagement is ­taking place in the member state capitals is also important, as of course not all decisions about the European Union are made in Brussels, very significant ­decisions are made in the member state capitals.”

Gethins said there would also be challenges around establishing the institutions needed – such as ­environmental, transport and finance regulators.

He said “of course” it would be ­possible for Scotland to be able to join as quickly as Finland did – but cautioned it would depend on the groundwork which had been carried out and other factors such as negotiations with the UK and the UK’s relationship with Europe at that point.

Earlier this year, the Tory government came under fire over efforts to curb international engagement work by Scottish ministers.

Gethins said UK ministers could not prevent the Scottish ­Government putting resources into Brussels, but could make it more difficult for ­Scottish officials to carry out their day-to-day work.

But he added: “I see the UK ­Government’s approach to the ­Scottish Government as quite short-sighted in that regard.

“Officials in the Faroe Islands or from Flanders, for example, enjoy the same diplomatic recognition as ­officials from Denmark or Belgium do.

“Because they see the benefits that those sub-state – non-independent – entities bring.

“That para-diplomacy, or however you want to call it, is something which is very, very common in Brussels.

“It was unusual to see a state like the UK try and hamper the work of the Scottish Government.

“The Scottish Government has ­responsibility for food and drink, growing the economy, all these ­important areas and areas where we need a good relationship with the rest of Europe, regardless of our ­constitutional status.”

Scotland’s Europe Minister Christina McKelvie said: “To give people the information they need to make an informed choice about Scotland’s constitutional future, the Scottish Government will shortly publish a paper setting out how an independent Scotland would rejoin the European Union, in order to escape the ­damage of Brexit – which has limited our economic growth, restricted trade, increased food costs and diminished opportunities for our young people.”

She added: “While we will continue to do all we can to mitigate the damage of Brexit, the only way to meaningfully reverse that damage, and restore the benefits we previously enjoyed, is for an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU.”