Scotland will “always be” a European nation, Nicola Sturgeon has declared during a visit to Brussels.
The First Minister insisted this was a “basic truth”, arguing that Scotland identified with the same values of “internationalism, solidarity and co-operation”.
And with the SNP leader also pushing for a second vote on independence, Ms Sturgeon said she hoped Scotland’s separate stance was being “acknowledged and welcomed” in Europe.
Scots voted to stay part of the EU in the 2016 referendum, putting the country at odds with the UK as a whole.
And in the recent European elections, the SNP – which fought a strong anti-Brexit campaign – increased its share of the vote and won three of the six Scottish MEPs.
That contrasted with results south of the border, where Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party took most seats.
Ms Sturgeon said that in the “battle of ideas which is confronting many European countries”, Scotland and its people had “consistently supported ideals of internationalism, European solidarity and co-operation”.
She told how Scotland and the rest of the UK are “increasingly” on different political paths.
And addressing the European Policy Centre think tank in Brussels, she said: “The basic values of the EU are ones we identify with. We like the idea of independent nation states co-operating for the common good.”
She spoke about the “basic truth that Scotland is, always has been, and always will be a European nation”.
While the free movement of people across Europe has boosted Scotland’s increasingly elderly population, and helped address a shortage of workers, Ms Sturgeon was clear this was not her government’s sole reason for wanting to stay in the EU.
She stated: “We want not simply to benefit from free movement and free trade – although we do. We also want to contribute Scotland’s ideas and talents to Europe’s shared challenges, and to uphold and exemplify our shared values.
“In the 20 years since devolution, Scotland’s contribution to the EU has already grown significantly. For all the current challenges we face, my hope – and my belief – is that it will grow further in the years and decades ahead.”
Ms Sturgeon delivered the speech after holding talks with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
The Brexit process has however been stalled by Theresa May’s failure to get her Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, and by her subsequent departure as Prime Minister – with Conservatives at UK level now focused on the contest for her successor.
But Ms Sturgeon said none of the candidates for that post supported the compromise position previously outlined by Mr Barnier – which would see the UK have a similar relationship with the EU to Norway.
As a result, she said that “increasingly, the likeliest way of avoiding a hard Brexit, or a no-deal Brexit, is for the UK to avoid Brexit altogether”.