ALEX Salmond has added to speculation that his successor will ditch EU membership from her independence offer in the next referendum, despite calling the vote because of Brexit.

The former First Minister suggested Nicola Sturgeon would not try to reverse Brexit by keeping Scotland in the European Union, but would instead promote membership of the looser European Economic Area (EAA) in order to be part of the EU single market.

On his weekly LBC Radio phone-in, the former First Minister also said that if the UK’s Brexit deal ended with something akin to EEA membership, the referendum would still go ahead.

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Ms Sturgeon said on Monday that she wanted a referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, when voters should know what Brexit will look like.

However she refused to spell out whether independence would mean reversing Brexit.

Although the SNP’s long-standing policy was for Scotland to be an independent EU member, she said: “Obviously we are in different circumstances now.”

The Herald revealed yesterday that, with a third of SNP supporters voting Leave last year, the SNP leadership is now trying to move away from the EU as an issue in the referendum.

One option is to join the single market, then perhaps have a referendum on full EU membership later.

Mr Salmond said the argument for having a referendum within the next two years was “to say that will allow us to have a continuous membership of the European Economic Area, not necessarily the European Union incidentally."

He went on: “Let’s see what the offer that comes forward is. She [Ms Sturgeon] has put the primacy on the single market place, being a member of the European Economic Area.”

Asked if Ms Sturgeon would withdraw the referendum if the UK ended up with associated single market membership, he replied: “These things are matters for Nicola Sturgeon but the answer I think is no.”

Formed in 1994, the EEA is made up of the EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, who are part of the EU single market.

The three outsiders must abide by the EU rules but do not have a say in writing them, and must accept freedom of movement.

The Scottish Tories said the SNP's EU plans were "a pig in a poke".

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said the SNP appeared to be using Brexit merely as a pretext for a referendum.

A report by economist John McLaren for Scottish Trends yesterday said the short-term impact of Scotland leaving the UK would “worsen Scotland’s fiscal position”.

It said the UK deficit would be just 1 per cent of GDP by 2019/20, but a newly independent Scotland then would start six times deeper into the red, with a deficit of 6.4 per cent.

The difference of £1700 per head was partly due to the collapse in North Sea oil revenue.

Mr McLaren said there would be no easy options for an independent Scotland trying to rein in its deficit, and suggested there could be rises on income tax, VAT or even a new whisky tax.

However he also suggested the medium-term prospects under independence were rosier.

He said: “With some combination of higher taxes, lower spending and any remaining shortfall being made up by continued borrowing, a new equilibrium position might be reached in a manageable way that does not lead to a dramatically different country.”

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It is understood the SNP’s Growth Commission will recommend halving Scotland’s deficit to a manageable 3 per cent of GDP over the first five to ten years of independence.

Two new opinion polls yesterday showed a drop in support for independence: YouGov for the Times put support for the Union on 57 per cent, while Survation for the Daily Mail put it at 53.

Both polls found most Scots opposed a second referendum within two years.