AN independent Scotland would seek closer links with Scandinavia, raising the prospect of the country becoming a member of the Nordic Council and regarding itself as a Nordic nation.

While the Scottish Goverment has underlined in its White Paper the continuing importance of relations with the UK and the EU following any independence vote, it has also made clear the increased significance it would attach to its neighbours to the north with regard to issues such as oil and gas, fishing, trade, the environment, including climate change, and defence.

The document Scotland's Future makes numerous references to the Nordic countries and the similarities that exist between them and Scotland in terms of size, trade, culture and political outlook. In this context, the White Paper emphasises how an independent Scotland would seek to strengthen ties with its Northern neighbours.

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It says: "This Government intends that Scotland will also seek a closer relationship with the Nordic Council of Ministers. Scotland has key shared interests with our geographical neighbours in the North Atlantic, such as Iceland and Norway, and a common interest in the Arctic and High North."

But a senior source close to First Minister Alex Salmond was asked if an independent Scotland could in time seek to become a full member of the Nordic Council. He replied: "Could a closer relationship include membership? Yes."

The Nordic Council, founded after the Second World War, is an inter-parliamentary forum for co-operation between the Nordic states.

It has five full members - Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland - as well as three associate members: Greenland, the Faroe Isles and the Aland Isles. In 1971, the Nordic Council of Ministers, an intergovernmental forum, was set up to complement the council.

While the Nordic countries have been keen officially to keep out of the debate about the pros and cons of Scottish independence, their governments are keeping an increasingly interested eye on the referendum campaign.

Last year, Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said that, if Scotland voted Yes, then his country would be "very happy to see increased co-operation happen". Meantime, Danish MP Soren Espersen from the far-right Danish People's Party, went further and suggested: "I know the Danish Government will accept straight away that Scotland could be a member of the Nordic Council."

In December, Professor Mikkel Vedby Rasmussen from Copenhagen University, who has previously spoken out in favour of Scottish independence, described how a Yes vote would create a "new Nordic state" and that an independent Scotland could "reinvent Nordic co-operation" and "also the very notion of what being Nordic means".

On defence matters, he added: "The need for Scotland to build a national defence would be a golden opportunity for realising true defence co-operation among the Nordic countries to create joint taskforces and economies of scale in procurement, etc. On these and other areas, Scotland could contribute to create a new Norden."

Last night, Angus Robertson, the SNP leader at Westminsterwho has visited all five member states of the Nordic Council, declined to comment on the prospect of an independent Scotland becoming a member but stressed a Yes vote would improve relations with all of Scotland's neighbours.

He said: "Our connections with the home nations will be key and we will be able to do so much more with our northern neighbours.

"Scotland is in an important northern European location and it makes perfect sense to work ­bilaterally with neighbours like Denmark, Norway and Iceland and multilaterally with the Nordic Council and other regional bodies."