THE President of the European Commission has said Scotland has “earned the right to be heard and listened to” regarding its demands for a separate Brexit deal.

Jean-Claude Juncker gave the message to Alex Salmond during a 35 minute meeting in Brussels yesterday evening where the former First Minister raised the country’s ambitions to stay in the single market even if the UK leaves under a hard Brexit.

The two men also discussed a future independent Scotland remaining in the bloc.

“I raised with the President how to maintain Scotland’s position in Europe,” Salmond told The National.

“The President told me that Scotland had earned the right to be heard and listened to. Undoubtedly this is a result of the diplomatic efforts of the First Minister and her team.”

He added: “I think the efforts by the First Minister and her team are being well regarded. We discussed a range of issues regarding the options open to Scotland and to Europe, including Scottish independence.”

Juncker’s words strengthen Scotland’s position in hoping to secure a separate arrangement for Scotland to remain in the EU once the rest of the UK leaves.

But it is also a strong signal to Theresa May that EU leaders are alert and sympathetic to the 62 per cent Remain vote north of the Border – and undermines her Government’s position that Scotland cannot have a bespoke deal.

It comes too after the European Parliament chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said there was no reason against an independent Scotland remaining in the EU.

Later last night Salmond, the SNP’s international affairs spokesman, received the inaugural Maurits Coppieters award to mark his services to Scotland in Europe.

The Centre Maurits Coppieters said the accolade was for his “dedication and advocacy for Scotland’s right to redefine it’s political future among a European family of nations”.

The institution, named after a prominent Flemish politician and member of the European Parliament, is a non-profit organisation which advocates national and cultural diversity throughout the European Union and its member states.

The centre announced the awards as it commemorates the 10th anniversary of the death of Coppieters.

“In the very near future the First Minister of Scotland will be unveiling the Scottish strategy to retain our connections with Europe, in trade, in cultural and in politics,” Salmond said in a speech after receiving the award which underlined the need for the bloc to move forward in a progressive way amid the resurgence of right-wing populism.

“We have no intention of allowing our 1,000 year history as a European nation to be severed by the failures of the Westminster political establishment. When that clarion call is issued then other Europeans should rally to Scotland’s cause.

“We hear a great deal about how the established order is under siege from the forces of right-wing populism – how liberal values, and progressive politics are on the retreat across Europe and indeed the planet.

“However in Scotland, it is progressive pro-European forces which are in the ascendant and the protest against the establishment is expressed from the left-of-centre. The European Union, for all its faults, is regarded as a positive thing.”

He added: “We want a Europe which prioritises growth and recovery, a Europe which remunerated the concept of a social contract and a Europe which responds with solidarity and humanity when faced with a refugee crisis.

“We need a Europe where dissent is channelled into fresh hope. We need to lift again the tattered flag of a social Europe. We need to fuel once again the idealist vision which propelled Maurits Coopieters himself. Where the self-determination of people’s linguistic and cultural diversity, peace and democracy could find a home in a united Europe.”

Chancellor Philip Hammond, during a visit to Edinburgh last month, said Nicola Sturgeon’s proposals for a separate Brexit deal for Scotland were not “realistic”.

He ruled out any special arrangements on trade and immigration, saying they would create different economic rules north and south of the Border.

But two days later Sturgeon hit back at “arrogant dismissals” telling an audience of European Greens that she was hopeful people in Scotland will back independence “in the not too distant future”.

She said a scenario which ignored Scotland’s interests would raise the need for a new vote on independence.