SCOTLAND’S exports grew at the fastest rate of any UK nation last year, with a rise in value of 19 per cent outstripping a UK average of just 13.3 per cent.

Some of the biggest rises were to European Union countries – Scotland's exports to the EU as a whole rose by 24 per cent while exports to non-EU countries were only up nine per cent – prompting a fresh warning from the SNP about the impact of a hard Brexit on Scotland.

The figures, from HM Revenue & Customs, showed exports contributed nearly £29 billion to Scotland’s economy in 2017. Almost half (49 per cent) of that figure, £14.1bn, was made up of exports to the EU.

Globally, oil and gas was Scotland’s fastest-growing sector, rising by 46 per cent, or £2,695 million.

As the Scottish Government works to strengthen trading links across the world, there was growth of more than 40 per cent in exports to both the Netherlands and China, and more than 25 per cent in exports to France.

The SNP say the strong growth in exports to EU nations shows the real threat to Scotland’s economy as a result of Tory and Labour plans to leave the EU single market – with exports in oil and gas, whisky, salmon and other products being put at risk by hard Brexit proposals.

While Scotland’s exports to the EU were up 24 per cent, the UK figure was only 14 per cent, underlining the likelihood that a hard Brexit will hit Scotland harder.

SNP MSP Tom Arthur, who sits on Holyrood’s Economy Committee, said: “These strong export stats show how lucrative Scotland’s export market is – but also highlight once again the very real threat being posed to Scotland’s economy because of Tory hard Brexit plans.

“EU countries continue to show a strong interest in our world-class products. It is breathtaking that the Tories are putting this at risk because of their hard Brexit obsession. The Tories think they can do whatever they want to Scotland and get away with it.

“Scottish Government action over the last year has helped exports to the Netherlands, France, Germany and other EU countries increase dramatically, now adding £14.1 billion to our economy – yet the Tories are doing all they can to undermine this.

“Scotland simply has to remain in the single market to protect jobs and our economy – we cannot afford to allow the Tories and Labour to put these vital markets at risk.”

Economy Secretary Keith Brown praised the “strong growth” revealed in the figures and said they showed confidence is returning to the oil and gas industry.

Brown said “I’m sure many people in Scotland will be encouraged, as I was, by today’s statistics, which clearly show that Scotland’s exports industry is showing strong growth in spite of the looming shadow of Brexit.

“These figures are positive – across a number of sectors and across a number of global markets. There was also welcome news for oil and gas, with the increase in exports clearly demonstrating that confidence is returning to that sector – which is, of course, one of Scotland’s most important industries.”

The increase in exports to the Netherlands saw it overtake the US as Scotland’s largest export partner.