NICOLA Sturgeon’s blueprint to keep Scotland in the EU single market after Brexit is under fire after it emerged a key precedent it cited had dragged on more than a decade.

The First Minister’s proposal, Scotland's Place in Europe, said Scotland could follow the example of the Faroe Islands and apply to join the European Free trade Association (EFTA), despite not being independent, and said the Faroese application was “under consideration”.

However the 62-page paper failed to mention the Faroese first applied to join EFTA in 2006.

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Instead the document referred only to a press article from August this year, which reported Iceland’s foreign minister backed the Faroese application.

Opposition parties said the "ill-thought out" example had badly undermined the SNP’s case.

The Scotland in Europe paper argued Scotland could stay part of the single market by first joining EFTA and then aligning with the European Economic Area (EAA), like Norway.

A major challenge is that neither EFTA or the EEA allow "sub-states" like Scotland to join, only sovereign states - an obstacle the paper sought to address by citing the Faroe Islands, which has applied to join EFTA despite being a sub-state of Denmark.

It said: “It should be pointed out that the Faroe Islands, not an independent state, is currently exploring the possibility of joining EFTA – a possibility that is under consideration.

“It is envisaged that Denmark would ‘sponsor’ the Faroe Islands membership of EFTA. This shows that a sub-state may enter into international agreements…. We consider that our membership could be ‘sponsored’ by the UK.”

But the Faroese parliament first gave its approval to “begin membership negotiations with EFTA” on 4 May 2006, and the Faroese Prime Minister said the process was “underway” a month later.

Six years later, his successor told diplomats in Brussels: “It can be frustrating to have to constantly define ourselves as what we are not. The Faroe Islands are not a part of the EU, we are not a part of the European Economic Area, we are not a member of EFTA.”

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And when the current Faroese government was formed in September last year, the coalition agreement said it remained an objective to join international organisations, including EFTA.

Tory chief whip John Lamont said: “Rather than prove that Scotland could join EFTA, the example of the Faroe Islands shows the exact opposite. They’ve been waiting over a decade for approval and have got nowhere, yet the SNP think Scotland should follow the same path.

“If the SNP really want the best deal for Scotland they need to work with the other parts of the UK, not put forward ill-thought out plans such as this.”

A Labour spokesman said: “We have been here before during the independence referendum when the SNP pretended getting back into the EU would be plain sailing. The SNP cannot just keep making assertions without providing the full facts.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “It has taken a decade for a tiny group of islands in the Atlantic to apply to EFTA. The idea a nation the size of Scotland could just sail straight in is complete madness.”

The EEA consists of 28 EU member states plus Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein, while EFTA consists of the 31 EEA countries plus Switzerland.

Kirsty Hughes of the Centre on Constitutional Change said EFTA and EEA only admitted sovereign states, so it was “very likely that Ms Sturgeon proposals would fall at this rather major hurdle” as admitting a sub-state would require changes to both their treaties.

“It would also require EU27 agreement (as signatories to the EEA treaty) and it would set a major precedent, on sub-states, that many more countries would be concerned with.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are clear Scotland should remain in the single market which is why we are urging the UK Government to negotiate a UK-wide deal to allow that to happen. If they won’t, then we are asking them to put forward a differentiated approach so that Scotland can remain in the single market, and that this is best done via EEA membership.

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“Our proposal also highlights other areas where, building on our EEA Membership, there would be other forms of cooperation for example on justice and research. We accept that this will be challenging but in dealing with exceptional times the EU has shown itself capable of exceptional creativity. We look forward to the UK Government’s response to our proposals.”