A "newfound spirit of co-operation" between the UK and the EU creates a new political challenge for the SNP which has since the Brexit vote in 2016 argued that only independence can lead to closer relations between Scotland and Brussels, according to a leading European expert.

Anthony Salamone gave his assessment after a leading European diplomat told the Herald on Sunday that the two sides were now embarking on growing relations after seven years of confrontation over Brexit.

Inigo Lambertini, the Italian ambassador to Britain and Northern Ireland, said the Windsor Framework which updated the Irish protocol, represented the start of a more pragmatic approach by Britain and one based on common trust.

READ MORE: Top diplomat discusses Brexit and Scotland after Humza Yousaf meeting

"The nasty process is over," he told the Herald on Sunday. "The path is moving towards increasing relations."

He added that the "force of reality" as seen by Europe was that whether Keir Starmer or Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister after the General Election relations were moving closer between the UK and the EU.

Mr Lambertini gave his views on a range of issues affecting Scotland and Italy after meeting First Minister Humza Yousaf at St Andrew's House, Edinburgh, last Wednesday.

The Herald:

The Italian Ambassador to the UK Inigo Lambertini with First Minister Humza Yousaf.

Mr Salamone, managing director of the European Merchants consultancy, based in Edinburgh, said for EU members like Italy, the Windsor Framework is "a prime opportunity" to draw a line under the acrimony of Brexit.

"Figures in Brussels, Rome and elsewhere now want to rebuild the EU-UK relationship over time, using the Brexit deals as the foundation. The EU’s objective is not to get the UK to rejoin the bloc. Instead, the aims are to improve post-Brexit cooperation and to encourage the UK to prioritise economic links with the EU," he said.

"This newfound spirit of cooperation demonstrates that the EU and the UK can build a closer partnership after Brexit. In Scotland’s case, it also shows that independence is not the sole route to a better relationship with the EU.

"The question is whether the SNP and others can welcome improved EU-UK relations in the present – not least given that hypothetical independence and Scottish EU membership would be years away in any eventuality."

Mr Yousaf predecessor as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon planned to hold a second independence referendum in October this year and take an independent Scotland back into the EU.

But the UK Government's refusal to transfer powers to Holyrood for a new vote and the Supreme Court's judgement last year that the Scottish Parliament does not have the powers to unilaterally stage a vote brought her plan to a halt.

Later this month, the SNP will hold a one day convention in Dundee to chart a route forward for independence.

The SNP has been approached for comment.