INDEPENDENCE in Europe is not an outlandish dream but the ultimate destination for Scotland. That is was why I was delighted to march alongside so many other EU and pro-independence enthusiasts through the streets of Edinburgh on Saturday. We were united there together, all as one, and that is something to be cherished.

It is also something to build upon. As readers of this column will be aware, before representing Stirling in Westminster I represented Scotland in Europe as one of its six MEPs for 16 years. Arguably, that has not changed given my current role as the SNP Westminster spokesperson for Europe and EU accession (even if I am in a lesser parliament).

Yet my time in Brussels enabled me to participate in a range of areas representing Scotland’s interests, whether it be by helping to shape the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, develop its Horizon 2020 programme or engaging with the wider world through its Foreign Affairs Committee. My time in Brussels showed that in the European Union, small states can shape the agenda and direction of a whole continent in a way Westminster refuses to allow even for long-standing nations in a supposed “Union”.

READ MORE: Organisers say momentum is back after Edinburgh independence rally

Now, nearly four years on from both mine and the UK’s departure from the EU, we are seeing the evidence of what it means to be outside the most successful economic and peace project Europe has ever seen. Brexit bureaucracy. International isolationism. Crumbling infrastructure and communities left behind.

I take no joy in my warnings about Brexit being proven right. Yet the UK has departed from the EU and the reality is that it won’t be re-joining anytime soon. None of the Unionist parties are advocating for a return to full EU membership, nor are they serious about engaging with Brussels.

Ironically, the relationship with the EU will continue to dominate UK politics for the foreseeable future, while Britain remains a decidedly minority interest across the sea. War in Ukraine, instability in the Western Balkans, EU enlargement, climate change and energy security are what the EU is talking about. The UK is now a residual problem to be managed by a small team in a backroom.

Even if some mystical mover were to compel the Unionist parties to back returning to the EU, would the EU even take the UK back? The UK was an awkward customer at the best of times, always seeing the EU as transactional rather than a partnership (an attitude that remains in the UK Government).

I always opposed the UK opt-outs from justice and home affairs co-operation, participation in economic and monetary union as well as the UK’s financial rebate. These opt-outs entrenched an unnecessary sniffy arms-length relationship between the UK and its friends in Europe.

All those things are off the table now since the awkward UK has left the room. The EU has moved on while the UK continues to believe its delusion that it is a major player on the world stage.

Rejoining the EU would necessitate a real-world, hard-edged discussion about where the UK is and what it needs to trade off in order to accept shared sovereignty.

READ MORE: List of Scottish schools containing Raac confirmed

Having just come back to Westminster after the summer recess, I just don’t see the political maturity in the UK to have that discussion. I do see that maturity in Scotland.

The SNP are in line with vast majority of Scots when it comes to rejoining the European Union. Every council area in Scotland voted remain in 2016 and that support has only increased further as the costs of Brexit affect households across the nation.

In Scotland we are comfortable with multi-layered identities. And across the Irish Sea, we can see in our neighbour the Republic of Ireland how the EU can help rebuild and turbocharge a nation’s economy after leaving the UK.

The situation has also changed from 2014. Back then our proposition was that after a Yes vote we would negotiate to join the EU, which we were already in as a part of the UK. Many did not see the need for change, not because they were hostile to independence but because they just liked what they had – 2016 changed this and, having lost our European citizenship with the UK, with independence we can get it back.

READ MORE: Douglas Ross accused of misleading Holyrood as debate concludes

Nor will this be a foolhardy endeavour that has never been tried before. We will be following a path that the likes of Ireland, Estonia, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Poland Romania and many others have trodden since 1956.

There is a process that is spelt out in black and white and it is one that Scotland will be in an excellent position to follow.

So, as the UK becomes the sick man of Europe, there is an alternative for Scotland’s future.

The SNP have an energising, clear, ambitious and achievable vision for an independent Scotland in Europe. That is a future worth campaigning for and I’m proud to be working towards it.