ALEX BELL: The unstoppable force of the SNP has met the immovable object of UK reality

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It is often asked when a party needs a new leader: But who can lead? The Scottish Tories do not publish membership figures, but 10,000 seems probable – and they are the only Scots who will get a say on our next prime minister, though a minority compared to the home counties vote.

Of the new PM, two things are certain. They’ll do anything to avoid a general election, given the current popularity of the party, and would be clinically insane to grant Indyref2 as it provides no benefit to Brexit-bashed unionists.

The Scottish Government knows this. Despite the SNP’s astonishing success at the EU polls and yesterday’s tabling of Holyrood legislation for IndyRef2, there is no obvious route to another vote on independence. The unstoppable force of the SNP has met the immovable object of UK reality.

Which is why Nicola Sturgeon should think of applying pressure elsewhere.

Once Brexit happens, all old arguments about Scotland in the EU are dead. The first minister should focus on this.

The UK is set to leave on October 31. The chances of No Deal have increased by virtue of the Brexit Party’s success in England in the Euro elections. Technically the Commons can block No Deal, but given the trashing of Labour and the Tories in last week’s ballot, it’s hard to know if this will happen.

As of November 1, the EU will be bored rigid with the UK and inclined to welcome Scottish membership, to prove a point against London.

On that same day, Brexit Scotland is no longer a “region” of a member state but a place with no existing legal or political ties to Brussels. Where the argument used to be about staying in, it is explicitly about rejoining in the event of independence.

The EU was previously restricted by treaty law in considering Scotland’s independent membership and alienated by the notion of undermining a member state. Neither applies on November 1.

This is fresh legal and political ground.

Sturgeon can move onto this territory with great effect.

The Scottish Government should create a Scotland Europe Committee (SEC) of academics and experts with three duties.

Firstly, to publicly list all the benefit Scotland receives from Europe and to monitor that not a penny is lost as Westminster takes charge.

Secondly, to identify all matters relating to Scotland’s application for future membership of the EU.

Thirdly, to advise and contribute to the wooing of Europe on the strength of Scotland’s membership bid come independence.

See more of Alex Bell’s thoughts here 

There is nothing to stop Brussels and every EU member state from opening its doors to the Scottish Government and advising, without inhibition, on what Scotland should do to win support.

The paradox of Brexit is that it resolves the awful mess the SNP had got itself in over Europe. No longer a guddle, now an opportunity.

This would have a major effect on domestic policy.

Just as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson (one presumes) are outdoing each other in their Icarus-like flights of fancy, Scottish public debate would centre on real, constructive proposals about our future international relations.

The sound and content of UK politics would be fundamentally different either side of the border – a fact certain to infuriate Brexit politicians.

Endlessly calling for powers to hold Indyref2 has become a cry easy to ignore – diplomatic visits to Europe, serious policy proposals and open pro-Brussels debate will be as fingernails on the blackboard of the union.

The Scottish Government would be doing something solid in terms of promoting Scotland to existing markets while drawing a perfect contrast between risky Westminster and thoughtful Edinburgh.

The SEC would also be an antidote to the impression that SNP planning for “Independence in Europe” is only marginally more advanced than Tommy Robinson’s IQ.

New converts to the SNP based on its remain policy would be given reason to stay, and reassurance they had made the right choice.

The great unspoken benefit is that the SNP might find Brussels can fill in those tricky gaps in the Indy argument.

Currency – Europe has one, and its a lot more reliable than the ever-sinking pound. Since I last wrote about this, Nicola Sturgeon has said joining the Euro is a “perfectly sensible” idea. That is quite a shift in party thinking, and necessary if Scotland’s membership to the EU is to be fast-tracked.

Security – Europe has it, the world’s largest political union intimately associated with NATO. A smaller Scottish army makes more sense when seen as part of an EU-wide capability.

Economy – Europe is rich enough to bung a few billion Scotland’s way to ease a transition to sovereignty which even the SNP admit will be long and bumpy.

Any SEC could also tackle the big issue of how a Scotland in the EU would co-exist with Northern Ireland, England and Wales out.

That is a matter which requires long, serious consideration.

It is, after all, why the last PM fell.