Former European Council president Donald Tusk has said Scotland would be welcomed into Europe “enthusiastically” if it won independence from the rest of the UK – but the process of rejoining would not be automatic.
Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Tusk said he felt “very Scottish” following Brexit, adding that Scotland would be treated with “empathy” if they gain independence and look for a place at the EU table.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has signalled an intention to rejoin the European Union as a member should Scotland leave the UK, however her opponents have said there is no guaranteed access to the bloc.
On Friday, German MEP and European Greens co-president Ska Keller told the PA news agency it would be “stupid” of the 27 EU member states to veto the membership of an independent Scotland.
The comments from Mr Tusk come after a YouGov poll which showed 51% support for independence – a majority for the first time in five years.
However, a majority of Scots surveyed also said they would not like to see another vote on the issue in 2020 or 2021, but most said they would like to see another referendum within the next five years.
Mr Tusk was initially reluctant to comment on Scotland’s place in Europe, saying he would like to respect the “sovereignty” of the UK – a major issue during the Brexit campaign.
He said: “I want to stop myself from saying something too blunt.
“But sometimes I feel like I’m a Scot – I feel like I’m Scottish, especially after Brexit.
“But at the same time, I know how important the word sovereignty and integrity were in the internal debate in the United Kingdom.
“I feel like it is not my role to intervene.”
However, the Polish politician did expand on his feelings towards an independent Scotland – and his thoughts on how other member states may react.
Mr Tusk said: “Emotionally I have no doubt that everyone will be enthusiastic here in Brussels, and more generally in Europe.
“If you ask me about our emotions, you will witness I think always empathy.”
Despite his claims of countries welcoming Scotland in, Mr Tusk said there would still be a process of application for any country to re-enter the EU.
He said: “If something like, for example, the independence of Scotland happens, then we need a regular process.
“It would be a new process.”
Speaking on the same show, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab suggested other EU countries dealing with independence movements could be against the inclusion of Scotland in the EU.
He said: “Given the secessionist, separatist tendencies in Spain, in France, in Italy, I’m not sure European leaders, let alone here in the UK, would actually welcome that kind of language.”
In the 2016 Brexit referendum, 62% of Scottish voters voted to stay in the EU.
Mr Tusk’s comments come just days after the UK left the European Union and the First Minister announced plans to “ramp up” the campaign for independence.
SNP MP Alyn Smith said Mr Tusk’s comments reflect what EU officials have said in private “for years”.
He added: “Donald Tusk’s comments underline the reality that Scotland would be welcomed back into the EU with open arms as an independent country.
“There is now an unstoppable momentum for an independence referendum. People in Scotland must have a choice over our future – instead of having it imposed on us by Westminster.”
Pamela Nash, the chief executive of the anti-independence group Scotland in Union, said the First Minister needs to be “honest” with voters about the difficulty of re-entering the EU.
She said: “Empathy alone is not enough to avoid the rules, and that means no automatic route into the EU for a separate Scotland.
“We would have to commit to joining the euro, explain what sweeping cutbacks to public services would be made to get our deficit down from 7% to 3%, and accept the EU’s trade deal with the UK – risking a hard border with England.
“Nicola Sturgeon needs to start being honest with voters about this, because it’s clear that whatever you think of Brexit, we are stronger together in the UK.”