AN independent Scotland would be "well qualified" for EU membership and the bloc should prepare to welcome the country if a new referendum to leave the UK is called, an influential Brussels think tank has said.

However, a briefing paper for the pro-EU European Policy Centre highlighted a series of complications regarding Scotland's possible accession, including its economic position, opposition from Spain and the prospect of the UK Government blocking another referendum.

The analysis, written by academic and senior think-tank advisor Graham Avery, praised the leadership shown by Nicola Sturgeon in the wake of the Brexit vote amid "chaos" in wider UK politics, and reported that goodwill towards Scotland and an openness to the country gaining independence is increasing on the continent.

Read more: Sturgeon to examine options for Scotland to remain in the UK and the EU

It also concluded that since 2014, Scotland's economy had "not flourished" with lower growth and employment than the rest of the UK, which the country is four times more dependant on for exports than the EU.

The paper states: "In the EU referendum a majority in England and Wales ignored economic warnings and voted for self government. The Scottish people may do the same."

Spain, which fears an independent Scotland gaining entry to the EU could bolster its own secessionist movements, is highlighted as a "main obstacle" but the paper adds "it is in the material interest of the EU, including Spain, to keep Scotland."

Speculating about what the Scottish Government's reaction would be if a second referendum is blocked, it states: "That would leave Scotland the option of declaring independence unilaterally, which would weaken its international position."

Read more: Sturgeon to examine options for Scotland to remain in the UK and the EU

If an independent Scotland did enter the EU, it would have the 12th largest economy, and find itself in a situation "similar to that of member states of comparable size such as Ireland or Finland. "

The paper concluded: "Scotland is a prosperous and stable democracy that has applied EU rules and polices for more than 40 years. It is well qualified for EU membership. From the economic point of view, it is in the EU's interest for it to remain: from the political point of view, to refuse Scotland after its vote to remain would be a bad signal."

Read more: Sturgeon to examine options for Scotland to remain in the UK and the EU

While the paper reported a "complicated" situation and said it would be "unwise" for EU institutions or states to take a position on Scottish independence now, the intervention was welcomed by the SNP.

Stephen Gethins, the party's Europe spokesperson, said: "This report shows that Scotland is well-placed to be an EU member in its own right, and highlights how attitudes across Europe towards Scotland have visibly changed. The democratic will of the people of Scotland must be recognised and we will do everything possible to protect Scotland’s interests - and our place in the EU."