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Sturgeon talks up EU's importance to Scotland

NICOLA Sturgeon will today seek to explain how Scotland benefits from being in the European Union as the SNP steps up its attack on David Cameron's decision to call a referendum on the UK's membership.

The Deputy First Minister will tell the British-Irish Chamber of Commerce's annual conference in Dublin that EU membership is a major factor in attracting business investment.

Speaking at the city's Aviva rugby stadium, Ms Sturgeon will also claim that independence would give Scotland a stronger voice in the EU.

Meanwhile, First Minister Alex Salmond again stressed independence was the only way to safeguard Scotland's place in the EU following the Prime Minister's announcement of an in-out referendum on renegotiated membership terms by 2017.

He dismissed claims at First Minister's Questions that the 2014 independence vote placed a question mark over Scotland's future EU membership.

He said: "It is obvious to any reasonable person now that the uncertainty on Scotland's position in Europe comes from the Conservative Party, led by the nose by eurosceptics and the compromises that David Cameron has had to make to hold on to his job."

The Tories hit back, accusing Mr Salmond of denying Scots a vote on the country's future in Europe. Under SNP plans ministers will negotiate the terms of Scotland's EU membership if Scots vote for independence but not consult the public on the deal they strike.

They insist Scotland would not have to join the euro single currency, but doubt has been cast on their ability to keep a share of the UK's cash rebate, worth £135 to every household.

Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: "This week something has become crystal clear: vote for the UK, you have a chance of a say on Europe, vote for independence and he's telling you to pipe down and leave it up to him."

She claimed twice as many Scots backed an EU referendum as supported independence.

She added: "On one hand he says the people of Scotland should be allowed an in-out vote when it comes to being part of the UK, but that they should be denied a similar vote on our future within the EU."

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: "David Cameron and Alex Salmond are like peas in a pod. Both are acting in their parties' interests before the interests of the people of this country."

Figures out this week showed one-third of Scots who support independence also want the country to quit the EU.

But in her speech today Ms Sturgeon, the minister responsible for the referendum, will extol the benefits.

She will tell the conference: "We believe one of the bonds we share with Ireland is our commitment to Europe and our appreciation of the benefits that the EU brings to our citizens.

"And, even – perhaps especially – in these times of flux for the EU, we should not lose sight of what these benefits are.

"The EU is easily our biggest international trading partner, accounting for nearly half of Scotland's exports.

"Membership of the EU is one of the major factors that makes us attractive for inward investment. It is estimated inward investment has created and safeguarded around 64,000 jobs for Scotland in the last decade.

"One of the arguments we often hear from opponents of our aspiration to become an independent country is that it will leave us weaker on the international economic and political stage, including the EU.

"I wonder how many in this audience, or indeed across Ireland as a whole, would agree with the view that being independent is the wrong choice in terms of European and international engagement. Very few, I suspect."

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