THE SNP has welcomed confirmation from Spain that it would not block an attempt by an independent Scotland to join the European Union (EU), saying it would help end “misinformation” about the country’s position.

Madrid’s foreign minister Alfonso Dastis said Spain would not veto an independent Scotland’s EU hopes – while stressing he does not want to see the country leave the United Kingdom.

Addressing reporters in Europe, he suggested an independent Scotland would have to apply for EU membership – something that could take several years.

Asked if Spain would veto an independent Scotland joining the EU, he said: “No, we wouldn’t.”

Referring to Scottish independence, Dastis told journalists: “We don’t want it to happen. But if it happens legally and constitutionally, we would not block it.”

Brexit minister Michael Russell welcomed the confirmation from Spain, saying: “That has been the position of the Spanish Government for some considerable time. All the speculation about what the Spanish Government would or wouldn’t do has been wrong."

Responding to Dastis's statement, he said: “I very much welcome it because it equates with reality.

“What this does is it de-escalates the situation, it produces some reality in the situation, so then we can have an argument about the merits of the case, not misinformation which has been coming from a range of sources.”

The SNP’s European spokesperson Stephen Gethins described it as a “significant intervention” by the Spanish foreign minister.

He said: “We can now be absolutely clear – there is no intention of a ‘Spanish veto’ over Scotland’s EU membership.

“This is just the latest indication from a senior European diplomat that an independent Scotland would be welcomed into the EU after Lord Kerr this week said that we’d be in ‘very fast’.

“EU countries want to be constructive with Scotland and will respect the democratic will of the Scottish people if we choose to be independent.”

“This is a significant intervention by Spain’s foreign minister which confirms what other Spanish politicians have said previously.

Any EU member state can veto any prospective application, and Spain is jittery about its own separatist movements – especially in the north-eastern state of Catalonia.

It previously suggested Scotland would be at the “back of the queue” to join the EU in the event of independence.

Scottish Tory MEP Ian Duncan said: “The issue about an independent Scotland’s EU membership has never been about an individual country’s veto.

“The truth is the decision would rest in the hands of all 27 member states, each of which would undoubtedly ask for something from Scotland in return.”

The change in tone from Spain reflects a new approach by Dastis, who was promoted to foreign minister last November when the conservative prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, eventually managed to form a government after 300 days of political stalemate following two inconclusive general elections.

In the run-up to the 2014 indyref, Rajoy said Scottish independence would be catastrophic and would risk the disintegration of Europe.

However, political feelings in Madrid and Brussels have shifted since Britain voted to leave the EU, and European leaders are more sympathetic to Scotland, where 62 per cent voted to remain in the bloc.

In an interview with Spanish daily El País, Dastis said Spain preferred a soft Brexit, although he doubted if that would be possible.

He said: “Spain is closer to soft Brexit. We regret the UK is leaving. We want a balanced, reasonable agreement.

“But if they’re leaving the single market and the customs union, it’s difficult to think of a soft Brexit. Spain would like a close relation, as similar as possible to the one we have now.”

More than 300,000 Britons live in Spain and Madrid has a strong interest in settling their post-Brexit status, including rights to healthcare, employment and social security.

Dastis said he thought a settlement could be reached within a few months, despite the issue being among the most complex the EU and British Government will have to deal with under Brexit.