NICOLA Sturgeon has not written to senior European figures since last year's election about an independent Scotland joining the EU, it can be revealed.

No approaches have been made by letter or email to EU ministers or officials in the European Commission by the First Minister or any of her ministers or officials to seek clarity on the process, timetable or requirements.

The lack of correspondence comes despite the SNP making a manifesto commitment ahead of the poll last May promising to hold Indyref2 next year and take the country into the EU.

It also comes amid concern among some SNP figures over the level of preparations being made for the vote.

HeraldScotland:

A freedom of information (FOI) request made by The Herald to the Scottish Government found no letters to ministers or officials in the EU from May 5 last year to February 1 this year on the subject.

Indeed, our request yielded just a single letter from a Hungarian MEP to the First Minister congratulating her on the Scottish Parliament election result when the SNP were elected for a record fourth term in government.

Ujhelyi Istvan's expressed his sadness about Brexit and said "there was no question" that Scotland would be "welcome" to join the EU.

"The saddening situation of Brexit was not made by the Scottish people and their voice has to be heard about Scotland's future," he wrote on May 9.

"There is no question that if Scotland wants to hold another independence referendum and stay (rejoin) the EU, then Scotland is more than welcome in our European community."

HeraldScotland:

Alba deputy leader Kenny MacAskill says the Scottish Goverment are not making sufficient preparations for Indyref2 next year.

He went on to say he was a member of the pro-Scottish group "European Friends of Scotland" in the European Parliament and would be keen to meet with her.

A civil servant from the Scottish Government's directorate of external affairs replied to Mr Istvan's on behalf of Ms Sturgeon on June 29.

The official declined the invitation for the First Minister to meet with him "at present" and wrote: "Scotland remains an inclusive European nation and the Scottish Government will take every opportunity to work constructively to the work of the EU and its members, sharing our experience and expertise and learning from others.

"We will continue to maintain close links with member states, proactively engaging on shared challenges and opportunities whenever possible. The Scottish Government deeply values the support of the European Friends of Scotland group in the European Parliament and is committed to continuous work on strengthening relations between Scotland and the European Union."

READ MORE: Kirsty Hughes: An independent Scotland may benefit by joining the Euro

With a second independence referendum planned for next year with a plan to take Scotland into the EU, the Scottish Government is expanding its network of European hubs to increase trade and cultural ties post Brexit.

However, it could also be expected that a more active lobbying operation would be underway with perhaps a sizeable number of the European Parliament's 705 MEPs written to about the prospect of Scotland joining.

In January it was revealed that 11 civil servants have been tasked with drawing up new plans for independence at a cost of up to £700,000 a year.

SNP President Michael Russell welcomed the spending as "democracy in action" but opponents said it was “an obscene waste of public money”.

In announcing her Programme for Government in September, the First Minister said she was instructing civil servants to bring forward an updated case for independence ahead of her ambition to hold a second referendum by the end of next year, Covid permitting.

 

But The Herald's revelation that there has been no correspondence between the Scottish Government and EU ministers or officials about Scotland becoming a new member or the process of how it can join has lead to further concerns in the SNP and the smaller pro independence Alba over the level of preparations.

Last month the former SNP deputy leader Jim Sillars accused Ms Sturgeon of being “ill-prepared” for an new referendum and shouldn’t try to have one next year, while the party policy convener Toni Giugliano appealed for the party to clarify its position on pensions in an independent Scotland following a row over whether the Scottish Government or UK Government would be responsible.

Former Scottish Government cabinet minister Kenny MacAskill, who is now the Alba Party deputy leader, said Angus Robertson, the constitution and external affairs secretary, should be more active on the matter rather than devoting time writing a book about Vienna.

Mr MacAskill said last night: "This revelation seems to indicate a total lack of preparation, enthusiasm and commitment in preparing for Scottish Government’s own timetable of an independence test in 2023.

READ MORE: Nicola Sturgeon boosts spending on global hubs ahead of independence referendum

"At the equivalent stage before the 2014 referendum we were already six months into the Edinburgh agreement and intense efforts were taking place to explain Scotland’s case to a European and world audience. Now the Scottish Government seems pre-occupied by removing Saltires from signage lest anyone think think they are pro-Russian while the relevant minister produces a tourist guide to Vienna!

"It’s long past time for the Scottish Government to get serious about independence."

One SNP activist said party members would be upset and said Mr Robertson should be meeting regularly with the European Commission.

"This is completely ridiculous. SNP members will be upset. It displays a lack of activity by Angus Robertson who is supposed to be managing our international affairs. He should be having monthly meeting with the commission. He's still rather invisible," said the activist.

But European experts said it may not be a surprise that the Scottish Government was not directly lobbying EU ministers, civil servants and officials on the matter.

Dr Kirsty Hughes, the founder of the former think tank, the Scottish Centre for European Relations, said: "It is the case that many EU politicians and officials are very cautious on engaging formally on the question of independence so it may be mostly these issues have been discussed in background conversations."

She added: "Given that the Scottish Government was working on independence and EU accession before the pandemic, it's surprising if there has been no correspondence at all with the EU and its member states on accession processes."

Expert Anthony Salamone, from the Edinburgh based consultancy European Merchants, said:"On the whole, it is not surprising that the Scottish Government has to date had little or no formal correspondence with the EU institutions or member states about an independent Scotland joining the bloc.

"We can say today that an independent Scotland could join the EU, by following the normal membership procedure. In many respects, Scotland would be extremely well qualified to be an EU member.

"The EU as a whole does not want to become involved in the independence debate. At this point in time, the Scottish Government and the EU simply do not have much to discuss in respect of potential Scottish EU membership. It makes sense then that the Scottish Government might want to avoid antagonising the EU on this issue in correspondence.

"The Scottish debate on independence and EU membership is currently shallow and circular. One important step – but not the only step – on the road to an improved debate will be the publication of the Scottish Government’s white paper on EU membership. That paper should set out its case with honesty and detail.

"At this stage, it is far more important to substantially improve the quality of our own debate on EU membership than to futilely seek to conduct pre-negotiations with the EU."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “As outlined in the Programme for Government, this government continues to maintain time tested friendships with our fellow Europeans in the aftermath of Brexit, and seeks to re join the European Union as soon as we can.

“As also outlined in the PFG, the Scottish Government will work to ensure that a legitimate and constitutional referendum can be held within this Parliament, and if the Covid crisis is over, within the first half of this Parliament. 

 “Work is progressing on a detailed prospectus that will be published in advance of a referendum, in time to ensure the people of Scotland have the information they need to make an informed choice about their future.”

During the Brexit negotiations and before the UK left the EU, several MEPs and European politicians - including the Irish TD Neale Richmond - said they would welcome Scotland into the EU.