THE Scottish Government’s long-standing commitment has been to be an active and progressive member of the European Union. That remains as true today as it was a year ago at the European referendum.

We believe that the best option for the UK as a whole, and for Scotland, would be the one Scotland voted for only a year ago by a massive 24 per cent margin – to remain in the EU.

We believe that membership of the EU, for all its imperfections, would provide the best possible future for Scotland and the UK and would best protect all our interests. It would also allow us to continue to make a strong, constructive contribution to the future of Europe.

Nonetheless, given the difficulties that exist in this unprecedented situation, the Scottish Government has offered and will continue to offer compromises in the national interest. However, that does not change our view that Brexit is an expensive, self-defeating mistake. In the negotiations between the UK Government and the EU which start today, the Scottish Government believes that the UK Government has to make clear at the outset that it has decided to accept, even as a transition, continuing membership of the European single market. We can help them do that. The Scottish Government published on December 20 a paper titled “Scotland’s Place in Europe”.

This made a strong and cogent case for the best approach available in the absence of full EU membership. It proposed that: a) The UK should remain in the European single market, through the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement. Given the many years, perhaps decades, of uncertainty involved in the pursuit of bespoke deals with the EU and other world trade partners, we believe Scotland’s interests would be best served if the UK retained its membership of the EEA.

b) Differentiated options should be explored which would allow for Scotland to remain within the European single market, even if the outcome for the rest of the UK is to leave.

c) The powers of the Scottish Parliament should be significantly expanded. For example, powers to be “repatriated” from Brussels that are already within the current responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament, such as agriculture and fisheries, must remain fully devolved.

Whilst we engaged in the process of negotiation in good faith there was no meaningful, open-minded engagement on any, and indeed all, of our proposals (or anyone else’s) from the UK Government.

Consequently, despite our best efforts and the loss of its overall majority in the General Election, the UK Government has seemed intent on a "hard" Brexit – a Brexit that will find Scotland outside of the European single market and customs union, with our exporters facing a raft of new obstacles to trade with their most significant market.

Yet the blueprint for a so-called soft, or open, Brexit already exists. The proposals – in detail – are contained in Scotland’s Place in Europe. Membership of the single market, promotion of economic protection over arbitrary controls on immigration, including movement of people, continuity of funding in key areas, continued close collaboration with the EU in security and research, and more powers for the devolved administrations. These are all in that document, as are the means to achieve them for the UK as a whole, or for the devolved nations as distinct entities.

None of the devolved administrations is involved in today’s negotiations. There must be more meaningful and wider engagement than we have seen to date and the devolved administrations must have a seat at the negotiating table with the EU. That change needs to start right now, not least because the Scottish Government and the Welsh Government have both offered constructive and practical ideas that would help the UK step back from the cliff edge on which it now stands. Theresa May has made a complete mess of everything she has had charge of since she became Prime Minister. She has done huge damage to the UK and to the nations that go to make it up. Things must change, and they must start changing today.