Pro-Union campaigners have been accused of twisting the words of the newly-elected president of the European Commission after he said the EU needs to "take a break" from expansion.

Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU should consolidate what has already been achieved by the existing 28 member states and that there would be no new members of the EU in the next five years.

Pro-UK campaigners seized on the president's remarks, claiming they made it clear that a Yes vote in Scotland's forthcoming independence referendum would also be a vote to leave the EU.

Loading article content

They claimed an independent Scotland would have to get in the queue for EU membership and would not get back in before 2019.

But the BBC tonight reported that Mr Juncker's spokeswoman said he was not referring to Scotland in his comments.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the No camp had "wilfully twisted" Mr Juncker's words and demanded an apology.

"This blatant act of dishonesty is a major blow to the credibility of the No campaign," she said.

"In their desperation to talk Scotland down and spread fears and smears, the No camp have wilfully twisted what Jean-Claude Juncker said. They said that Mr Juncker was talking about Scotland - and his spokeswoman has confirmed that he was not. Their claims now lie in tatters.

"The No campaign are guilty of distorting remarks by the newly-elected president of the European Commission, which is an extremely serious matter. They must withdraw their bogus assertions as a matter of urgency and issue a public apology."

The Scottish Government has maintained that the terms of Scotland's EU membership as an independent state would be agreed during the 18-month transition period following the September ballot.

It says Scotland is already part of the EU, and therefore already meets all the requirements for membership.

In his political guidelines, Mr Juncker, who was elected by the European Parliament yesterday, does not refer specifically to Scotland.

He said: "When it comes to enlargement, I fully recognise that this has been an historic success that brought peace and stability to our continent.

"However, the union and our citizens now need to digest the addition of 13 member states in the past 10 years.

"The EU needs to take a break from enlargement so that we can consolidate what has been achieved among the 28.

"This is why, under my presidency of the Commission, ongoing negotiations will continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective, but no further enlargement will take place over the next five years."

In the wake of the comments, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie said earlier: "It is now clear that if we leave the UK, we would be leaving the EU. This would put thousands of Scottish jobs at risk and would be massively damaging to our country."

Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "Jean-Claude Juncker is only confirming what we already know - that an independent Scotland would have to join the same queue as everybody else for membership of the EU. Only today we find that queue has grown to a minimum of five years."

A spokesperson for pro-Union campaigners Better Together said: 'These comments lay bare the full extent of the problems we would face if we left the UK. The countries who have already started the application process to join the EU face a five year wait. As President Juncker has made perfectly clear, if we leave the UK, we would then have to start the application process to join.

"How long that process would take and what conditions would be attached is anyone's guess."

A spokesman for Yes Scotland said the No campaign had "distorted" Mr Juncker's position because "Scotland is already in the European Union and will negotiate our member state status from within".

"Jean-Claude Juncker is obviously talking about countries not currently in the EU, such as Kosovo and Turkey - unlike them, Scotland complies in full with every single European rule and regulation," he said.