THE former president of the European Council has said an application for an independent Scotland to join the EU would be “very seriously” considered.

In an interview with the BBC, Herman Van Rompuy said Brexit had altered European attitudes to Scottish independence.

He said: “I think there is a change, yes, because for a lot of people they are looking at what Scottish people are in favour of.

“They want to stay in the European Union and at the same time they are prevented to stay in the European Union.”

Scottish Brexit Minister Michael Russell said the remarks were “welcome”.

But the UK Government’s Scottish Secretary, Alister Jack, claimed there were still questions over whether or not an independent Scotland would be able to join Europe.

Van Rompuy, who served between 2009 and 2014, said there was “much more sympathy for regions – parts of a country – that want to join the European Union” among European leaders than before.

He warned that any vote for independence must be legally watertight.

If there was a Yes vote in a referendum that was “constitutional” he said Scotland would have a “legal case”.

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“Then, of course, the outcome has to be considered by the European Union very seriously,” he added.

Accession would not be automatic, he added, “there are rules to be respected and we have all to agree on a new candidate”.

Van Rompuy said there were still “hesitations” about Scottish independence in Spain, which is concerned about Catalonia breaking away.

Though he added that the situation was very different.

The politician, who was previously prime minister of Belgium, and is an opponent of the Flemish nationalist movement, said he was not enthusiastic about the UK breaking up.

“I fought all my life against separatism in my own country, so don’t ask me to applaud when this would happen,” he said.

Russell said the comments show “that there is clearly real sympathy and understanding for Scotland’s position in Europe, particularly given the hard-line anti-EU position of the UK Government”.

He added: “People in Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and there is no doubt an independent Scotland will make a strong contribution to both the EUs core values and shared goals such as tackling climate change.

“Scotland of course has been inside the EU and observing the acquis for over 45 years and Lord Kerr, the author of Article 50 and the UK’s former permanent representative to the EU, has said an independent Scotland’s accession negotiation would be, ‘very swift’.”

Jack disagreed: “There are very real questions about whether an independent Scotland would be able to re-join the EU, not least because Scotland’s notional deficit is more than double that allowed under EU rules.

“I am very clear that Scotland’s future is better served by staying in the United Kingdom, keeping the pound, retaining control over of our democratic rights, and having control over our own fishing waters.”