ALEX Salmond has been accused of misleading voters over claims he had official confirmation that an independent Scotland could be fast-tracked into the EU.

The First Minister cited a letter from a European Commission official saying it would be "legally possible" to re-negotiate Scotland's membership while it remained inside the EU as part of the UK, provided other member states agreed.

However it later emerged the letter was not a response to the Scottish Government's proposals for fast-track EU membership but, instead, a reply to a general inquiry from a member of the public which appeared on a website last month.

Scottish Labour accused Mr Salmond of an "amateurish and shameful" attempt to mislead voters and called on him to apologise after he quoted from the letter during First Minister's Questions.

The row came as Mr Salmond sought to defend claims that an independent Scotland would avoid the usual, lengthy EU accession process.

The claim was dealt a blow on Wednesday when the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, warned an independent Scotland would be "left outside the EU" and required to negotiate membership from scratch with all 28 member states. His comments were yesterday backed by Prime Minister David Cameron, whose spokesman said Mr Rajoy had made a "very important point".

The spokesman said the remarks were "very much consistent with the legal advice that the British government published earlier in the year".

Mr Salmond yesterday dismissed the Spanish premier's warning and insisted an independent Scotland would be fast-tracked into the EU.

He told MSPs: "Can that happen legally? Would it happen? Can the process be completed within 18 months?

"I have here a letter from the head of unit of the European Commission's secretariat-general, which addresses exactly the first question."

He quoted from the letter and said he would lodge it with the Scottish Parliament Information Centre for MSPs to read.

However it later emerged the letter was a reply to reader of a pro-independence website - where it was published last month.

It did not discuss the Scottish Government's proposed legal mechanism, revealed in its independence White Paper on Tuesday, to bypass the usual EU membership procedure under Article 49 of the main Brussels treaty.

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont said: "Alex Salmond tried to suggest he had an opinion from the EU saying his case for EU membership was right. It doesn't.

"Did Alex Salmond write to the EU Commission to ask for this opinion? No. Did the Scottish Government? No. The fact is we do not know who wrote the original letter or what they asked because Alex Salmond pulled the letter off the internet.

"This is an amateurish and shameful attempt by Alex Salmond to mislead the people of Scotland. It seems that Alex Salmond is basing Scotland's future on his ability to Google."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP said: "This shows just what a shower of rank amateurs this SNP government is when it comes to conducting international diplomacy."

Meanwhile, pro-independence campaigners have accused the Foreign Office of failing to use St Andrew's Day to promote Scotland around the world.

The Business for Scotland group said none of the 20 missions it had contacted were planning events to promote the event tomorrow (Sat).

The Foreign Office denied the claim, but Ivan McKee, a leading member of the group said: "We are talking about people's jobs and hard earned taxes here.

"We more than pay our way in the UK yet we get limited gain from our contribution."