The EU citizenship of the Scottish people may be up for negotiation if the nation becomes independent, the EU's top policymaker has suggested.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has apparently suggested that the EU citizenship of people in a region that secedes from a member state would have to be "negotiated within the international legal order".
Unionist parties say the comments expose the Scottish Government's claim that Scotland would automatically be accepted into the EU as "total nonsense". The Scottish Government maintain that there is nothing in Mr Barroso's response that suggests that Scotland will not retain its place in the EU.
Meanwhile, two veteran nationalists have told the Press Association that Scotland's ongoing membership of the EU cannot be taken for granted.
Independent MSP Margo MacDonald and her husband Jim Sillars, both former SNP deputy leaders, believe further negotiation will be required. And Mr Sillars, who remains an SNP member, believes other EU member states could block Scotland's entry into the EU, particularly if party rebels succeed in their bid to pull Scotland out of Nato.
The rare pronouncement from Mr Barroso on the wider EU secessionist debate came in response to a question by Italian federalist politician Mara Bizzotto. She asked if regional citizens would immediately lose their status as EU citizens, and the resultant rights and obligations, if the region secedes from the member state.
Mr Barroso responded: "In the hypothetical event of a secession of a part of an EU Member State, the solution would have to be found and negotiated within the international legal order."
Labour MEP Catherine Stihler said: "Scotland will not automatically assume the many rights of the UK. There will have to be long, detailed negotiations with a great many bodies and institutions. The outcome of which can never be taken for granted."
A spokesman for First Minister Alex Salmond said: "An independent Scotland will remain an integral part of the EU, and nothing in this answer suggests otherwise, despite the desperation of the anti-independence parties to say so.
"As many experts have confirmed, Scotland is part of the territory of the European Union and the people of Scotland are citizens of the EU. There is no provision for either of these circumstances to change upon independence."