The SNP just two or so short years ago was viewed as part of part of a wave of nationalist populism. Now it is increasingly seen as a bulwark against it.

Nowhere is this more obvious than in Italy. Brexit has dramatically changed the way in which Scottish independence is reported. Back in 2012, when Alex Salmond began making continental headlines with his first independence referendum, the reviews of Scotland's then first minister were far from positive.

"He looks less like Braveheart and more like Chief O’Hara, the corpulent and easy-going police chief in Mickey Mouse cartoons," said Rome's lefty La Repubblica.

Disney's Chief O'Hara, or Commissario Bassetoni, as Mickey Mouse's nemesis is called in Italy


Mr Salmond was equated - I am not sure the former first minister would be unhappy at the comparison - with the far-right anti-immigration Lega Nord, which has flirted with supporting independence for a make-uppy nation in northern Italy called Padania.

BACKGROUND: The Herald's As Others See Us from Italy in 2012

One rather extremist Leghista politician welcomed Mr Salmond's first 2007 victory. Why? He thought it would help push back what he saw as the Islamification of Europe.

Scroll forward a decade and Mr Salmond and his party is being feted in this' weeks Italian papers as a pro-European messiahs. The former leader himself gave an exclusive interview to Milan's Il Giorno printed under the headline "Scotland wants Europe". The paper described him as the "paladin of independence" rather than Chief O'Hara.

Il Giorno, Milan


But it was his successor, Nicola Sturgeon, who is winning the most plaudits for her stance on both independence and EU membership. Her announcement of a new referendum last week was welcomed by liberal Europhiles as part of a fightback that also included this week's defeat of the far right in the Netherlands. "From Holland to Scotland, Europe is at last getting tired of populism" was the headline in online investigative newspaper Linkiesta. Ms Sturgeon's "stay in Europe" referendum, it suggested, was part of a fightback involving Dutch resistance and coming elections in France and Germany.

Influential commentator and editor Giuliano Ferrara went much further. After the Netherlands result and the ruling by a Hawaiian judge to throw out US President Donald Trump's Muslim ban, the veteran journalist tweeted. "We are all Dutch, Hawaiians, and Scots now. The world is turning in to a good place." But he added: "I am going to Paris. We shall see if May brings glad tidings."

By May, Mr Ferrara meant the month, not the British premier. He is talking about French elections in which he hopes rightist anti-EU anti-immigrant Marine Le Pen is defeated. The subtext: Brexit, Trump, Netherlands extremists and Le Pen are on one side; and Nicola Sturgeon is on the other.

Il Foglio's front page endorsement of Ms Sturgeon


Mr Ferrara likes Ms Sturgeon, "the woman with a male saint's name who gives such a hard time to the aristocrat May". On Thursday, his influential but relatively small circulation daily Il Foglio appeared with Saltires on its masthead and a page one editorial endorsing the first minister's referendum call. "Scotland is our last refuge" was his headline, with a nod to Samuel Johnson. Mr Ferrara meant that this country is the last refuge of "true European patriotism", not of scoundrels. France, he said, was in danger. Germany was more reassuring. But he added: "For the moment, European patriotism, with problems, is seeking refuge in Edinburgh and Glasgow in the form of a happy independentism in conflict with the bitter secessionism of the Midlands."

Mr Ferrara got pretty flowery in his praise for Scotland, or, as he put it "that magnificent corner of Europe where even Caesar did not reach". He continued: "Perhaps the time has come to read Boswell, to study the colours of Scotland and its flag, to travel by land and sea to try to understand how [it] became a haven for a humanist project, which, while controversial, carried peace and hope as well as problems". The humanist project he is talking about, of course, is the European Union, first forged in Rome 60 years ago this year.

BACKGROUND: The Herald's As Others See Us review of press on the indyrfe2 announcement.

Mr Ferrara is far from the first to make the contrast between Scottish pro-EU nationalism and British anti-EU nationalism. Earlier this week France's Le Telegramme referred to this as the "paradoxe britannique". Nor is he the first Italian to praise Ms Sturgeon. Last year she was awarded one of the country's Capo Circeo prizes for her contribution to European unity. Mr Ferrara closed his page one paean to Ms Sturgeon with the simple words "Scozia, che passione", or "Scotland, what passion". Indeed.

Scotland on Page 1 of La Stampa this week