The European Commission has given its strongest indication yet that an independent Scotland will inherit the same status as that of the remainder of the UK.
An official statement from the Commission has confirmed that Scotland is already considered an equal party with the rest of the UK whatever the result of the independence referendum, but that the Commission could make no comment on the actual specifics until the result of the referendum was known.
In an official response to a question from Catalan MEP Ramon Tremosa I Balcells, the Commission referred to Scotland and the rest of United Kingdom as “the parties concerned” and described other member states as their “European Union partners”.
The official statement read: “At the present time, the Commission is not able to express any view on the specific issue raised by the Honourable Member given that the terms and result of any future referendum are unknown, as is the nature of the possible future relationships between the parties concerned and between those parties and European Union partners.
The Commission would recall in this context that the terms of any European Union Treaty are decided by the Member States of the European Union.”
The statement has been welcomed by SNP President Ian Hudghton who said it was in line with legal opinion that Scotland and the rest of the UK would be considered equal successor states in the event of independence.
Mr Hudghton, who is an MEP, criticised what he termed the scare stories being peddled by the anti-independence parties and said:
"The Commission is right not to speculate on the outcome of the referendum given that the Scottish government's consultation is still ongoing, and it is not the EU's role to pre-empt the democratic will of the Scottish people.
"A number of supporters of the anti-independence parties have attempted to spread scare stories about Scotland's future role in the EU - and they would perhaps be better advised not to pre-empt that democratic will.
"The Commission make clear however that they regard both Scotland and the rUK equally as 'the parties concerned'.
"They go on to speak of the future relationship 'between those parties and European Union partners' - again implying both that Scotland and rUK are being treated equally and that the rest of the EU remain 'partners'.
"As a matter of fact Scotland, together with the rest of the UK, is already a member of the EU. The Commission states that the terms of the European Treaties are decided by its Member States - and both Scotland and the rUK will play their role as equal Member States in amending those Treaties to take account of the two successor states post-independence".
Scotland’s role in Europe has been hotly debated recently with power giant SSE claiming that EU membership was one of the areas that caused it concern.
This statement, although not definitive, is crucial in that the Commission has confirmed already that it acknowledges Scotland as an existing separate entity.
The wording of the statement is a blow to the Unionist argument which has claimed that the UK is seen by the European Commission as a single state and that Scotland is not recognised in its own right, but rather as a region or territory that will leave the parent.
The statement will be seen by independence supporters as confirmation that neither Scotland nor England’s nation status disappeared when the act of Union was signed, and thus both will remain equal EU partners.
However Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Moore claimed it showed there would be no automtic guarantee of entry.
The Lib Dem MP said: "The Scottish Government need to face up to the fact there is no automatic guarantee of EU membership for a separate Scotland.
"This is one of the many doubts that hang over the whole independence project. When it comes to the fundamental building blocks like our currency, our defence forces and our EU membership there is a fog of uncertainty."