AN independent Scotland could remain in the EU after Brexit by taking over the UK’s place as a member state, one of the country’s leading political scientists has said.

Professor John Curtice, of Strathclyde University, said Scotland could swap places with Britain in the EU if there was a vote for independence in a second referendum.

He said it was “difficult to deny” that the EU would have the “option” of handing Scotland the UK’s seat in the EU after Brexit under those circumstances.

Curtice also suggested that Nicola Sturgeon might be tempted to run a Yes campaign “predicated on that assessment” of Scotland staying in the EU.

Last night, a Scottish Government source welcomed the remarks, which come ahead of an announcement Sturgeon is due to make in the coming weeks on how to keep Scotland in the EU and the single market.

Former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish said the idea of Scotland taking on the UK’s terms of EU membership was a “positive” suggestion and should form part of Sturgeon’s strategy for protecting Scotland’s place in the EU.

Meanwhile, Curtice, a neutral political scientist and polling expert, said that if one part of the UK, in this case Scotland, wanted to remain in the EU but the rest of the UK wanted to leave it would give officials in Brussels a choice.

Curtice based his claim on the UK’s Foreign Office paper ahead of the 2014 referendum that stated an independent Scotland would not inherit EU membership because the UK was the recognised member state.

He said: “Clearly it would depend how the EU decided to interpret that. There would be a choice facing the EU. It could decide to treat Scotland, which is already part of the EU, as the successor state.

“The point the Foreign Office paper argued was that an independent Scotland would not inherit EU membership as that membership was the UK’s. But if the rest of the UK wants to get out of the EU, a decision could be made in regard to Scotland being the continuing state.”

A key plank of the case against independence in the run-up to the referendum in 2014 was that the only way to ensure Scotland retained its place in the EU was to vote No, due to the UK’s ongoing membership since 1973.

However, Curtice suggested that this could now mean an independent Scotland taking over these terms of EU membership from the UK after Brexit.

He said: “From an external observer’s judgement having read the Foreign Office paper it seems difficult to deny that possibility...I’m not saying it’s an option the EU would definitely take. These are all tough questions for the EU and if I were the Scottish Government I’d try to run a referendum predicated on that assessment.”

Curtice also said that allowing an independent Scotland to remain in the EU could mean there were benefits for Brussels.

He said: “Clearly the UK decision to leave is a significant blow to the EU. But it could be that hanging on to something from the UK would be better than nothing, from their point of view.

“It could be open to the EU to make a decision to regard Scotland as the continuing state. It could say that Scotland is now the successor state.”

Scotland voted in favour of the UK staying in the EU by 62 per cent to 38 per cent in the June 23 referendum, while the UK as a whole voted to leave by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Meanwhile, a Scottish Government source welcomed Curtice’s intervention and echoed his remarks that there was a large amount of goodwill towards Scotland from within the EU.

“These are interesting comments,” said the source. “We will bring forward specific proposals in the coming weeks to protect Scotland’s place in Europe and in the single market.

“But in terms of how Europe looks at the situation, there is clearly a huge amount of goodwill towards Scotland from our friends and neighbours, and there are a number of senior and influential people across the continent who have made clear they are keen on keeping Scotland in Europe.”

McLeish, a former leader of Scottish Labour who was First Minister from 2000 to 2001, said that Scotland inheriting the UK’s terms of EU membership should be considered as an alternative to a “hard Brexit” and Scotland being pulled out of the single market.

He said: “It is an elegant solution if it can be achieved. It reinforces the actions of the First Minister in making it quite clear that Scotland doesn’t want a hard Brexit and that we want to show that we are good Europeans and generate and maintain goodwill.

“It also reinforces the need to show that the one-size-fits-all approach to Europe of the UK Government is totally inappropriate.”

Legal expert, Tobias Lock, a lecturer in EU Law at Edinburgh Law School, said Scotland could only take over the UK’s EU membership if a vote for independence took place before Brexit was complete.

Lock, who is also co-director of the Edinburgh Europa Institute, a research centre on European integration, said: “If Scotland became independent before the UK leaves the EU [the prospect of Scotland being allowed to stay in the EU as a successor nation] would be open for discussion, either in terms of replacing the word UK with Scotland or accommodating Scotland as a member.

“But if it was after Brexit I don’t see a basis for it. Much would depend on how the Brexit negotiations go, but it looks like it would be quite an elegant solution.”

However, a UK Government spokesperson said: “The British people voted to leave the EU, and the UK Government will negotiate the best deal for all parts of the country.”