By Chris Rumbles
Two opposing French politicians have criticised European Commission president José Manuel Barroso for wading into the debate over an independent Scotland's European Union membership.
French Socialist MP Axelle Lemaire, whose unique constituency role covers all French people living in Northern Europe, joined her conservative UMP counterpart, Joëlle Garriaud-Maylam, in saying President Barroso's comments were nothing more than a manoeuvre to earn political capital ahead of a rumoured campaign to become NATO secretary general.
She has been joined by Ms Garriaud-Maylam, a senior figure in France's main opposition party, who speaking in the Herald, said President Barroso was sending out threats that were in no way "credible".
She said: "The threats formulated by Mr Barroso are inappropriate and the result of Spanish and English pressure. London is increasingly worried.
"If Scotland votes for independence, it will stay in the European Union. It would be in England's interest."
While appearing on the BBC's Politics Scotland programme, Ms Lemaire denounced the actions of President Barroso:
"It's up to the Scottish people and to the people who live in Scotland, in general, to express their views. There is a very heated but democratic debate going on, and I don't think it was up to President Barroso to say what he thinks about it."
Ms Lemaire went on to say: "We all know he's the current President of the European Commission, but his mandate is coming to a term soon with the new commission that will be nominated after the European elections taking place at the end of May, so he has a personal agenda…
"In order to become that, he needs the support of the United Kingdom and David Cameron, so, clearly he did that for reasons that probably aren't as legitimate as they appear…"
Axelle Lamaire - Referendum is discussed at 2 mins 55 secs
President Barroso's comments while appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr show last month ignited further debate on Scotland's place in the EU should it vote ‘Yes' in September. Mr Barroso explained he thought it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to obtain enough support among EU members to maintain its membership, he later appeared to backtrack on the comments.
SNP MSP Christina McKelvie, who convenes the European Committee in the Scottish Parliament, welcomed what she described as "common-sense opinions" from both Ms Lemaire and Ms Garriaud-Maylam that helped counter anti-independence "scaremongering".
She said: "With Labour edging ever closer to the Tories' commitment to an in-out EU referendum, it is now indisputable that the threat to Scotland continuing in European Union comes from remaining under the Westminster system.
"Westminster's lurch to the right is being driven by UKIP's hard-right agenda and is the biggest source of uncertainty faced by people and business. We know from the most recent poll that support for Scotland remaining inside the EU is strong, but the same cannot be said elsewhere in the UK."
An IPSOS MORI poll conducted last year found that 53 per cent of people in Scotland would vote to remain in the EU compared to 34 per cent who would vote to leave. YouGov polling produced this week showed that, for the first time in over a year, a majority of people said they would vote to stay in Europe in the event of a UK referendum on membership. 41 per cent of respondents said they would vote to stay which was marginally above those who would vote to leave with 39 per cent.
Earlier this week Labour leader Ed Miliband gave mixed messages on the party's stance on an In/Out UK referendum. Though initially suggesting one was "unlikely" with a Labour government, Mr Miliband then promised he would "guarantee" one if the UK's relationship with the EU altered.
The Conservatives and UKIP are supportive of a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU while Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg recently claimed his party were "now Britain's only party of in" despite its similar stance to Labour on the issue.