Talks over keeping an independent Scotland in the EU have taken place, a Brussels insider has revealed.

Dr Kirsty Hughes said she had been told "off the record" that discussions had taken place in the Belgian capital over placing Scotland in a "transitional holding pen" after the UK leaves the bloc, potentially preventing Scotland from having to leave and re-apply should the public back independence.

The former senior political adviser in the European Commission and an Associate Fellow at Friends of Europe think tank also said that independence would be the "simplest and most obvious way" to achieve Nicola Sturgeon's goal of maintaining the country's place in the EU following last week's referendum result.

Dr Hughes, who has also worked at a number of other leading European think tanks, added that if was "logical" for a second referendum, which the First Minister has said she is "highly likely" to call, to take place by next summer to ensure it is complete before the UK formally leaves.

The country may then be able to enter into a transitional phase, holding on to the benefits of EU membership, until the practicalities as joining the EU as an independent member are ironed out.

She told MSPs on Holyrood's Europe committee: "I talk to people in Brussels, off the record, who are talking about Scotland being in some sort of transitional holding pen. It wouldn't have a seat in the Council of Ministers until ratification of the treaties, but it wouldn't have to go through an absurd out and then in process."

The talks Dr Hughes was referring to were understood to have taken place during the first independence referendum but suggest the flexibility EU institutions are capable of showing.

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon described Dr Hughes' evidence as "interesting" and did not rule out a independence referendum next summer, but said it was too soon to discuss specifics only a week after the shock EU result.

Once the UK formally notifies the EU that it wants to quit, which will take after a new Prime Minister takes office in September, it will have a two year period to leave. Ms Sturgeon has indicated that if an independence referendum is called, it would take place within this period.

Discussing the timing of another referendum, Dr Hughes added: "If Scotland waits until nearly the end of the two years to say, 'This isn't okay and now we're having an independence referendum', you might not have had that and had time to have the negotiations with the rest of the UK on dissolving the union before the whole of the UK has left.

"So, it's obviously a very big political judgement about whether and when to call an independence referendum. If it was only a question of logic, you would call it as soon as possible in my view.

"You would call it, let's say, by next summer because then you would have actually had the dissolution talks - if it was successful - with the UK before the UK left. That would make it much easier for the EU to get into some of these transitional holding pen arrangements than otherwise."

Some have suggested that Scotland could become a 'successor state' to the UK, meaning it would keep many of the perks it enjoyed.

However, Dr Hughes warned that the EU would not welcome another member of the "awkward squad", suggesting that Scotland would have to enthusiastically back the European project and sign up to all that goes with it.

She added: "If the idea of a successor state is that you want the opt-outs from the euro, the budget rebate, the opt-in deal on justice and home affairs, I don't think that will be forthcoming."