AN independent Scotland would be welcomed back into the European Union by Ireland, according to a leading Irish politician.

Senator Neale Richmond, who is a close ally of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, believed Scotland would be a positive influence on the bloc as it shared its core values of tolerance and openness.

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“If the Scottish people decide they want to be independent then of course we would welcome another small independent English speaking country into the European Union,” he said.

Despite being one of the smaller EU nations, Ireland exerts huge influence in the EU – as can be seen in the prominence given to the border issue during the Brexit negotiations.

Richmond, who is chair of the Irish Senate Brexit committee, believed Scotland would enrich the EU as the bloc opened a new chapter following the departure of the UK.

“The strength of Europe is the strength of its diversity,” he added.

“It’s not just reliant on the strength of its two big economies of France and Germany, or indeed the UK, we look at small member states and what they bring. Scotland is very similar to Ireland. You could argue that Ireland has been the most benign influence over the European Union in our 45 year history in it.

“And from our point of view [another] small English speaking country with a dynamic workforce, which is very inclusive, very welcoming buys into what Europe is really about.”

He continued: “It’s not just about trade, it’s not just about economics. It’s not about building walls.We as a member remaining in the EU have to think about what a future EU should be.

“We have to make sure a future EU is warm, tolerant, open and welcoming. We don’t want walls going up, we don’t want fences and we don’t want the rhetoric of people like Victor Orban [the Hungarian prime minister] or Marine Le Pen [leader of the Front Nationale in France] – that is really retrograde. As long as Scotland embraces the European mindset – as it is doing – Scotland would bring so much to Europe.”

Richmond is an EU spokesman for Varadkar’s Fine Gael party and he spoke to The National as he attended the SNP conference in Glasgow.

He will today speak at a fringe meeting on Scottish and Irish perspectives on Brexit on a panel along with the SNP MEP Alyn Smith and Dr Kirsty Hughes, director of the Scottish Centre on European Relations.

During the independence referendum in 2014, the former European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso angered many independence supporters when he announced it would be “extremely difficult, if not impossible” for an independent Scotland to join the EU. He said an independent Scotland would have to apply for membership and get the approval of all current member states.

Referring to Barroso’s intervention, Richmond suggested the situation now was different, as at the time EU states were worried an independent Scotland joining the EU would set a precedent. But with the UK leaving, the situation has changed.

“The Irish government looks on expansion of the EU favourably ... An ever wider and deeper union is in the interests of Ireland,” he said.

However he did insist that an independent Scotland would still have to meet the 13 tests for EU membership.

“The situation is that if a country wants to join the EU, there are the Copenhagen criteria which are 13 tests. Any country that is within the European geographic sphere which meets these tests is welcome to join,” he said.

“Prior to the 2014 referendum we saw a lot of concerns expressed by Barroso, the Spanish government was worried about setting a precedent for Catalonia, but that has changed I think.

“We want to see the UK rejoin the EU. If Scotland makes its own decision we’ll do it in due course. We’re not going to start a campaign for an independent Scotland to join the EU, but we will act accordingly.”

Richmond raised fears about the impact of the EU vote on politics in Northern Ireland which he believed had become more divided over the past two years.

Despite opinion polls suggesting increased support in Northern Ireland for Irish unity, he did not support a border poll taking place in the next few years, although he said he would like to see a united Ireland at some point.

“I believe a border poll would be a disaster, at the moment” he said. “One day sure I want to see a united Ireland but I’m not in a hurry for it and I’m not sure if the Republic can afford it economically. I think if we rush it through and did it in a bad way it would lead to civil disobedience.

“Northern Irish politics at the moment is quite toxic. It’s not in a good place. I am very worried about [political stability there].

“I am worried Brexit has thrown a very divisive wedge at the two communities. The vitriol between hard core loyalists and hard core republicans has increased.”