THE SNP Government has accepted for the first time that an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it would aim to retain the same membership terms as the UK.

She had previously insisted Scotland would inherit the same deal, including Britain's opt-out from the euro single currency.

Speaking in Brussels, Ms Sturgeon said Scotland would issue a "notification of intent" to negotiate membership immediately in the event of a Yes vote next year.

She added: "That notification would make it clear that we want to continue within the European Union as an independent nation."

She told the European Policy Centre think-tank: "We would begin as a nation keen to be an equal and constructive partner in the EU – recognising its benefits; participating in dialogue about its future; and contributing to its development and growth.

"And we would begin seeking to apply the principle of continuity of effect: in other words, on issues like the euro, Schengen and the rebate, our aim would be to retain the prevailing terms of Scotland's membership."

It completed a drastic shift in the SNP's position from last year, when ministers insisted an independent Scotland would automatically inherit EU membership on the same terms as the UK. Only minor issues would have to be agreed, they claimed.

A Scotland Office spokesman said: "The Deputy First Minister's speech finally acknowledges that an independent Scotland would have to notify the EU ahead of negotiations and accession would need agreement of all member countries. This is a major concession." Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "First the SNP said automatic EU entry would be a certainty, then it was downgraded to a 'negotiation'.

"Now Nicola Sturgeon is trying to pretend the Scottish Government has never taken EU admission for granted, but its behaviour over the past 12 months indicates the reverse."