About the initiative:

The Scotland-Europe Initiative was developed in response to a growing interest in the future relationship between the UK and the EU, which, 3 years post-Brexit, remains unsettled. The EU is undergoing substantial change, and closer to home, there are distinct Scottish issues and options. This Initiative will examine Scotland’s and the UK’s relations with Europe and the effects of Brexit on our daily life by exploring public policy issues such as trade and investment, energy policy, and migration. The main activities will consist of workshops to explore these issues in depth and offer possible policy solutions as well as filling gaps in knowledge. A series of outputs resulting from the workshops will be published.

The Initiative aims to:

  • Provide rigorous analysis of the issues, drawing on academic research done or underway;
  • Examine policy and institutional options for responding to the main challenges with innovative solutions;
  • Engage in a dialogue with government, business and civil society in Scotland about these;
  • Raise awareness of these issues and options among the general public;
  • Highlight distinctive Scottish implications of future relations with the EU and EU policy shifts.


Launch event/public lecture  | The EU in a global order in crisis
9 March 2023

At a time of multiple intersecting international challenges and crises, including threats to globalisation, the Ukraine war, and the climate change crisis, the European Union is a key player in determining how the democratic western world responds.

Leading international commentator, Martin Wolf from the Financial Times, addressed how the EU is facing up to these systemic crises and where we go from here.

Workshop 1  | Trade & Investment
9 March 2023

The UK’s exit from the EU has raised a continuing and contentious debate about the prospects for the country’s economy, notably trade and investment. How far does the Trade and Cooperation Agreement support government plans to raise growth and productivity, invest in new green and digital technologies, and win a greater share of world trade? The UK – and Scottish – governments have drawn up their own plans for promoting clean technology and a “just” transition, but do they match those in mainland Europe? Are there distinctive, innovative solutions the public authorities and private companies should be seeking? In a world beset by inflation, near-recession, continuously rising inequality, war and the displacement of millions of people, will more barriers to trade and freedom of movement be erected? How can the UK overcome its entrenched productivity problem and skills shortages? And will there be a change of UK policy towards trade and the EU in year 4 (or 5) of Brexit? These were some of the questions addressed in the workshop.

Workshop 2  | Divergence in Energy Policy
13 April 2023

Since Brexit, the assumptions guiding energy policy in the UK and the EU have been challenged by events in Ukraine and their consequences. The commitment to lower carbons forms of energy and related instruments in the EU has been shown to be weak, and dependence on fossil fuels both pervasive and hazardous. Both the EU and the UK have scrambled to adapt and, in the medium term, have been likely to promote a very significant shift towards a much greener energy economy. Energy is not a devolved competence but statements by the Scottish Government make it clear that such an accelerated shift to renewables and newer forms of clean energy such as hydrogen is very much in line with its policy preference. In making this happen – at scale – new technologies and designs in wind farm construction and interconnectors will play a role. This workshop has considered:

1: How technology and investment can be mobilised to overcome the barriers created by space and distance for energy generation and trade between Scotland and its northern EU neighbours (the North Sea, for example).
2: How the regulatory framework for gas and electricity pricing can be further adapted to better reflect differences within the UK energy market, especially in Scotland.

Workshop 3  | Migration and Freedom of Movement
15 May 2023

Brexit has meant the end of free movement between the UK and the EU countries (Ireland excepted). This workshop was focused on examining three particular issues:

1: Patterns of movement after Brexit and potential policies better attuned to labour market needs, including skills and labour shortages.
2: Immigration, citizenship and rights to work (reserved matters). All parties in the Scottish Parliament are in favour of inward migration for economic and demographic reasons and favour devolved powers in this field to meet Scotland’s distinct needs. The workshop also considered the long-standing debate about the possibilities for a differentiated migration system for Scotland under Brexit.
3: The needs of the Scottish labour market; attitudes to migration; and the possibilities within existing or extended competences for a distinct Scottish set of policies, including forward-looking frameworks for enhanced employment of EU nationals.

Workshop 4  | Financial Services
6 July 2023

Financial and professional services were left out of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and subsequent negotiations on a MoU on financial regulation were stalled for two years but the UK-EU MoU has just been agreed and co-signed. The successful negotiation of the Windsor Framework to resolve issues in Northern Ireland holds out the prospect of the UK and the EU taking steps towards a new rapprochement here as in other fields. There is evidence that Scotland (and perhaps the City) is losing potential new jobs in the sector to other European cities following Brexit. What are the implications of the MoU and how will it fit with the Edinburgh Reforms and the promised Financial Services and Markets Bill, which will give effect to the UK Government’s proposals for regulatory reform? This workshop focused on the negotiation progress and the likely impact on Scottish/UK companies, the Scottish economy, and Scotland’s labour market. 

Workshop 5  | Higher Education
28 September 2023

The Higher Education sector has found itself caught up in policy wars, from staff difficulties due to the international hiring practices to the delayed accession to Horizon Europe. Within Scotland, a positive approach both to EU citizens and to ERASMUS+ funding has created a different mood between government and the sector, but while the former issue lies outwith the Scottish Government’s powers, and the latter has not been reflected in budgetary allocations on the scale necessary-and indeed promised. This workshop focused on:

1. Horizon: the impact of non-accession and the effectiveness of UKRI and other mitigations
2. ERASMUS+: the costs and their challenges, solutions proposed and obstacles to those solutions; longer term risks and issues; the progress of the Welsh scheme
3. European networks: the European Academy, European Association of the Arts Social Science and Humanities, CIVIS: engagement since Brexit
4. The opportunities and limits of alignment as a third country and the practicable Scottish dimension to these
5. The EU staff and student experience

Workshop 6  | Regulatory Alignment
2 October 2023

Member states of the EU must adopt the same legal framework across a whole range of policy areas – from the environment to food labelling. The UK’s exit from the EU brought an end to that requirement for alignment, notwithstanding the terms of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement.

Scottish Ministers nevertheless retain a policy commitment to align Scots law with EU law where possible. This workshop will examine the research being undertaken to monitor the extent of continued alignment of EU and UK and Scots law and policy, disclosing up-to-date findings.

The workshop will also reflect on ongoing research into monitoring the continued alignment with EU law and policy at Scottish and UK levels and will provide an opportunity for those attending.

Public lecture  | The EU and the Brexit Negotiations
3 October 2023

Brexit has dominated headlines in the United Kingdom for years. Yet the perspective has often been centred on British politics, leaving a big part of the story untold. How did the European Union (EU) respond to the Brexit vote? How did EU principles and processes shape the EU’s negotiating strategies? And how has Brexit in turn shaped today’s EU? This event brings together renowned observers and practitioners of Brexit from the European side to discuss these issues.

This event is held in partnership with the Europa Institute, University of Edinburgh

Watch the recorded event.

Workshop 7  | Borders
24 October 2023

Borders take many forms: economic; jurisdictional; social; regulatory. The border between Scotland and the other UK nations has existed for centuries but its significance has changed. Brexit has placed a new border between the UK and the EU, but its effects will depend on how the TCA is adapted over time. The new Border Target Operating Model has been devised principally by the UK Government, but will be implemented by the Scottish and Welsh Governments at their external borders with the EU/NI.

Internal borders can matter too. The increased fiscal autonomy and social security responsibilities have reinforced the tax and benefits border between Scotland and the rest of the UK, whilst the UK Internal Market Act has diminished the significance of the regulatory border in other policy areas that fall within its scope.

Scottish independence in the EU would reduce the significance of the Scotland-EU border but would harden the Scottish border with England and Wales; the degree to which would be shaped by the development of the UK-EU relationship, over which, an independent Scottish Government would have no control. This workshop explored the nature and governance of borders under current and possible future scenarios.


We are publishing blogs authored by the workshops speakers on the topics that were covered at the sessions:

Rebecca Christie, Senior fellow at Bruegel argues that by leveraging its regional leadership, the UK can shift the post-Brexit landscape towards cooperation and collaboration.
Post-Brexit compliance: the regulatory rough ride. Peter Sellar sheds light on the evolving landscape of GB-EU alignment, highlighting challenges for businesses navigating dual regulatory markets.
David Gow on navigating the post-Brexit landscape as Scotland’s pursuit of EU regulatory alignment faces hurdles. While Brussels forges ahead with new standards, can Scotland keep pace? Gow shares insights from a workshop which sheds light on the challenges and the elusive quest for harmonization.
Dr Kirsty Hughes discusses Brexit’s legacy in EU-Scotland relations, arguing that while polls suggest UK’s reconsideration of EU ties, discussions remain elusive. In Scotland, EU relations are vital, so what’s next for this crucial partnership?
Dr Saskia Smellie explores Scotland’s unique stance on immigration; looking at the latest research and Scottish attitudes towards migrants and its distinctive narrative landscape and how it differs from the rest of the UK.
Professor Alan Matthews discusses how the EU’s revamped Common Agricultural Policy emphasizes sustainability and climate action, with eco-schemes and carbon farming initiatives paving the way for greener agriculture. He argues that as Scotland debates its Agriculture Bill, lessons from EU reforms offer valuable insights.
Professor Maggie Gill shares insights from the Scotland-Europe Initiative workshop on Food and Agriculture, which touched on Europe’s implementation of the Farm to Fork Strategy, the delivery of the Just Transition in Scotland, and the definition of ‘high-quality’ food.
Frank Moeschler on regaining lost ground in Scottish research. As Horizon Europe and Copernicus gain momentum, he argues to leverage these platforms for collaboration, investment, and growth.
Brexit’s impact on the environment: the EU’s steady green policies vs. the UK’s fragmented approach. Post-Brexit, Baroness Young of Old Scone looks at the divergence among the four nations, and highlights the importance of cross-learning.
Exploring the evolution of UK-EU relations in foreign and security policy: from Brexit’s seismic shift to renewed cooperation post-Ukraine crisis. Benjamin Martill’s insightful analysis sheds light on this dynamic landscape.
Exploring Scotland’s evolving role in EU relations, Juliet Kaarbo and John Edward delve into the intricate interplay between substate diplomacy and the UK-EU dynamics. From economic ties to security concerns, Scotland’s stake in EU affairs defies conventional boundaries.
Professor Jan Zielonka discusses the changing landscape of Europe’s politics which he believes is marked by a shift from traditional divides to a clash between liberals and sovereigntists.
Post-Brexit environmental paths diverge: Scotland commits to EU standards, but the UK’s stance remains ambiguous. Professor James Curran delves into this divide, highlighting challenges and threats to maintaining parity with Europe’s environmental benchmarks.
Kirsty Hughes FRSE takes a look at the Scottish government’s new paper on ‘An Independent Scotland in the EU’. She notes that the paper tackles some tricky issues head-on, but there are gaps too.
Professor Roger Crofts argues that the environment is our shared responsibility and highlights challenges post-Brexit: declining standards, political influences, and the need for unified action. We must talk early, talk often, and collaborate globally to protect our planet.
Professor Paul James Cardwell delves into the aftermath of Brexit’s impact on higher education. From the farewell to Erasmus+ to the birth of Turing, it’s a complex horizon. Will the UK seek to re-join Erasmus?
Professor Katy Hayward on ‘bord-inary’ challenges; Brexit’s border changes that are causing friction in the UK.
Joël Reland says the subtle regulatory shifts persist post-Brexit, impacting laws, trade, and business complexity. He believes vigilance is key as new regulatory barriers emerge.
Professor Jeffrey Sharkey FRSE argues that Brexit has had a negative impact on the performing arts, causing visa issues and reduced earnings, which is driving some artists to consider leaving the industry.
Professor Murray Pittock FRSE, recaps on the 5th Scotland-Europe Initiative workshop on Higher Education.
Professor Sarah Prescott discusses the effects of Brexit on international study, language education, and student opportunities, including the transition from Erasmus to the Turing Scheme.
David Gow reflects on the The EU and the Brexit Negotiations RSE and Europa Institute event with Professor Brigid Laffan and Dr. Stefaan de Rynck.
Professor Michael Keating discusses challenges for shared regulatory competences after Brexit.
Professor Michael Keating argues that the promise of Brexit was to ‘take back control’ and establish the sovereignty and supremacy of the UK Parliament and people.
With Brexit’s impact on borders, Dr Kirsty Hughes FRSE discusses what might lie ahead for the England-Scotland border in the instance of an independent Scotland.
Lessons for Scotland’s potential EU membership. Katy Hayward discusses the Windsor Framework in relation to the Irish/Northern Irish Protocol for border management.
Financial services post-Brexit; Rebecca Christie remarks that the UK still expects preferential treatment, while the EU demands reciprocity.
Graham Bishop argues that three years after leaving the EU, the UK finance sector still awaits the promised gains.
Professor Rebecca Kay discusses policy options for Scotland to increase inward migration and boost economic growth and diversity.
Professor Raffaella Ocone stresses that collaboration between the UK and EU is vital for successful energy transition and reaching Net Zero goals.
Professor Sergi Pardos-Prado discusses the challenges of implementing a bespoke Scottish immigration policy.
Tackling energy security and net zero targets, Professor Peter Cameron on the importance of collaboration with the EU on energy policies.
Dr Thomas Sampson discusses the impacts of the UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement two years after it took effect and Britain left the single market and customs union.
As part of the RSE Scotland-Europe Initiative Professor Sarah Hall discusses Brexit and ‘missing’ financial services jobs in Scotland.
Emma Congreve, Deputy Director and Senior Knowledge Exchange Fellow at the Fraser of Allander Institute discusses the impact of Brexit on trade in goods, services and labour.

initiative Working group:

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Vanessa Glynn

Vanessa Glynn
Former Chair of The European Movement in Scotland

Vanessa Glynn spent her career in the UK Civil Service, working in the Diplomatic Service and for successive Scottish administrations. Her main focus was European affairs, working in the UK Representation to the EU on energy and external relations and then establishing Scotland House in Brussels and heading the Scottish Government Europe team in Edinburgh. She remains engaged in EU issues and has chaired the European Movement in Scotland. 

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Mr David Gow FRSE

Mr David Gow FRSE 
Writer, editor and consultant

David Gow FRSE Chairs the RSE’s Scotland-Europe Initiative. He was European Business Editor of the Guardian in Brussels (2004-12). He co-founded and co-edits sceptical.scot, sits on the Federal Trust council, is a EMiS executive, and a consultant editor for Bertelsmann Stiftung, the Jacques Delors Centre in Berlin and Europe Jacques Delors in Brussels.

Michael Keating wearing glasses and looking at the camera
Professor Michael Keating FRSE

Professor Michael Keating FBA FRSE FAcSS
General Secretary, Royal Society of Edinburgh

Michael Keating is General Secretary of the RSE and Emeritus Professor of Politics at the University of Aberdeen. He is a graduate from the University of Oxford and was the first PhD from what is now Glasgow Caledonian University. Michael is a Fellow of the British Academy, Academy of Social Sciences and the European Academy. He is author or editor of some forty books and numerous journal articles on comparative European politics, nationalism, regionalism and politics and policy in Scotland. Michael has taught in universities in Scotland, England, Spain and Canada and for ten years was professor at the European University Institute in Florence. From 2013 until 2020 he was founding director of the Centre on Constitutional Change in Edinburgh.

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Mark Lazarowicz

Mark Lazarowicz
Lawyer, commentator, campaigner. Former Labour MP for Edinburgh North and Leith

Mark Lazarowicz was a member of UK Parliament for Edinburgh North & Leith, 2001 – 2015 (posts held included Shadow Minister for International Development, PPS in the Scotland Office, Prime Minister’s Special Representative on international Carbon Trading). He is an Advocate at Scottish bar, with practice mainly in public law, including a particular interest in EU citizens’ rights. He is the founder and chair of Citizens Rights Project, a Scottish charity providing information, representation, and advocacy for EU27 citizens in Scotland. Between 2018 – 2022 he was the chair of the European Movement in Scotland.

Dame Alison Mariot Leslie DCMG FRSE

Dame Alison Mariot Leslie DCMG FRSE
Retired, HM Diplomatic Service

Mariot Leslie is a former British diplomat with wide experience in Europe, Asia and multilateral diplomacy. She has been UK Permanent Representative to NATO, Ambassador to Norway, member and alternate chairman of the British Government’s Joint Intelligence Committee and FCO Director General of Defence and Intelligence. Since her retirement she has been based in Scotland where she was a member of the First Minister’s Standing Council on Europe after the Brexit referendum. She is a member of the Nominations Committee of Chatham House and of the advisory boards of the Centre for European Reform and the Royal United Services Institute, and is a director of the Scottish American Investment Company.

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Professor Nicola McEwen FRSE

Professor Nicola McEwen FRSE
Professor of Public Politics, University of Glasgow

Nicola McEwen is Professor of Public Politics at the University of Glasgow, and a fellow of the Centre on Constitutional Change. She specialises in nationalism, devolution and intergovernmental relations, with a focus on Scotland and the UK in comparative perspective.

Her recent research has examined the impact of Brexit on UK devolution and the future of the Union, supported by an ESRC Senior Fellowship with the UK in a Changing Europe (https://ukandeu.ac.uk/). Nicola is actively involved in informing the policy process and public debate, through media work, public engagement, and advice and support to parliaments and governments.

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Irene Oldfather

Irene Oldfather
Director of Strategy and Engagement, The Alliance Scotland

Irene Oldfather represents The Alliance Scotland on a range of national and advisory bodies including the Health and Social Care Partners Group, the IHub Board, the Focus on Dementia Advisory Forum, Living Well in Communities Board. As Scotland’s Third Sector representative on the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) working across The Alliance Scotland and the third sector to ensure a strong voice for the Sector in this difficult and uncertain post-Brexit environment.

As a former MSP and Chair of the Scottish Parliament European and External Affairs Committee she maintains a keen interest in parliamentary activities.

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Professor Neil Walker FRSE

Professor Neil Walker FRSE
Regius Professor of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations, University of Edinburgh

Neil Walker has held the Regius Chair of Public Law and the Law of Nature and Nations at the University of Edinburgh since 2008. Previously he taught public law at Edinburgh between 1986-1996, was Professor of Legal and Constitutional Theory at the University of Aberdeen from 1996-2000, and then Professor of European Law at the European University Institute in Florence during 2000-2008, where he was also the first Dean of Studies.

His main area of expertise is constitutional theory. He has published extensively on the constitutional dimension of legal order at sub-state, state, EU-supranational and global levels.  He has also published at length on the relationship between security, legal order and political community. He maintains a more general interest in broader questions of legal theory as well as in various substantive dimensions of UK and EU public law.

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Dr Fabian Zuleeg

Dr Fabian Zuleeg
Chief Executive and Chief Economist, European Policy Centre

Fabian Zuleeg has been Chief Executive of the European Policy Centre since October 2013, with overall responsibility, including providing strategic direction, managing its staff and resources, and representing the EPC. He remains Chief Economist at the same time. Fabian holds a PhD from Edinburgh University and has worked in academia, the public and the private sector. He focuses on the future of European integration and how Europe can meet the triple challenge of the watershed of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the fundamental transformations (sustainability, technology, demography, and economic security) and the Permacrisis, a term he coined with EPC colleagues in 2021, in the context of internal political dis-cohesion and a contested global landscape. Fabian also focuses on transnational cooperation between European Think Tanks.

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