INDEPENDENCE could be the only way for Scots to avoid a “lost decade” of Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon has told MSPs.

The First Minister warned that damage to the “economy and other areas of our society and lives [from quitting Europe would be] deep and severe.”

Appearing in front of Holyrood’s Committee on Europe and External Affairs, Sturgeon said she was watching the various legal challenges brought against Brexit, and if possible, would consider using the Scottish Parliament’s powers to halt Scotland being dragged out of the EU.

A number of cases will likely go to the UK Supreme Court, and could result in MPs having to legislate and vote on invoking Article 50, the process needed to formally leave the EU.

Sturgeon told the committee: “I have to say the Scottish Government is keeping a very close eye on these court actions and will assess as they proceed at all stages whether there is an argument for us to become directly involved to make sure that the interests of the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament are protected.”

“If that was to be the case that there was a decision – and I’m speculating now – that parliament had to pass legislation, that brings the issue of an [Legislative Consent Motion] into sharp focus.”

This could potentially mean the Scottish Parliament having the power to block Brexit.

Sturgeon’s predecessor Alex Salmond gave his backing to the possibility of Sturgeon blocking Brexit. Speaking on his LBC radio show, the north east MP said: “If Scotland could block Brexit then I think Nicola Sturgeon should do that.”

He added: ‘I think Nicola Sturgeon should take her instruction from the verdict of the Scottish people – she’s Scottish First Minister. If you remember the Scottish people voted decisively to remain – 62 per cent to 38 per cent. Nicola Sturgeon is there to represent Scotland the Scottish people – that’s her job.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “As the prime minister has said, it would not be right to provide a running commentary or reveal our hand prematurely.

“The Department for Exiting the European Union is leading the UK’s negotiations to leave the European Union and establish the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

“The government has committed to working very closely with parliament, devolved administrations and a wide range of other interested parties on this approach.”

During her committee appearance Sturgeon also reiterated that a second referendum on Scottish independence was “highly likely”, telling MSPs if Scotland was forced out of the EU as part of a “hard Brexit”, with no access to the single market but control over immigration, then “it would be wrong to deny people in Scotland the right to consider whether independence is a better way of protecting those interests,” she said.

“I am not saying this to try to depress everybody, but we have to be really open-eyed in going into the process. Nobody is doing anybody any favours by trying to suggest that we are through the worst.

“We have not even started the process yet. The potential for a lost decade for the UK should make us all sit up and take notice.

“That should make us think very carefully in Scotland about whether there are better alternatives to just accepting that we have to be part of that.”

Speaking in a later debate, her newly appointed Brexit minister Michael Russell suggested the UK Government might be purposely seeking a hard Brexit.

“Not only is there no road map, there does not even seem to be a direction. It may be that a hard Brexit, with all the damage to jobs and the economy that it would cause, is the desired destination.”

Tory MSP Jamie Greene said the Scottish Government needed “respect the outcome of our collective nations.”

“A million Scots voted to leave the EU. Just as we respect the First Minister’s desire for independence, she needs to respect the views of those Scottish people who wanted to leave the EU,” he said.

“The EU has struggled in its current form to survive just a few decades.

He added: “The United Kingdom has survived for centuries, because our bonds are deep, our interests are similar, and our lives and family trees cross the Border.”

Juncker also told MEPs in Strasbourg that the EU needs a military headquarters to work towards a common military force as the lack of a “permanent structure” resulted in money being wasted on missions.

The Brexit vote has given added impetus to plans for greater defence co-operation, because the UK has always objected to the potential conflict of interest with Nato.

Juncker said a common military force “should be in complement to Nato”.

He said: “More defence in Europe doesn’t mean less transatlantic solidarity.” is an opportunity for rest of EU, says top negotiator Guy Verhofstadt.22422