ALEX Salmond has said that an independent Scotland should not immediately pursue full EU membership – but back membership of the European Free Trade Association initially instead – as he set out Alba's position on the nation's place in the world.

The former first minister claimed the SNP's position backing re-entry into the bloc post-independence did not taken account of the significant changes since the 2014 referendum and said Nicola Sturgeon's policy on securing independence "remains frozen in aspic".

In a speech at the weekend, he suggested that an independent Scotland should initially have a Norway-style relationship with Europe, as a member of European Free Trade Association (EFTA), saying this would allow Scotland to maintain access to the UK internal market and the common travel area in the British Isles while gaining access to the EU single market.

The Alba leader wants his party to establish a Holyrood "supermajority" for independence after next month's election and begin independence negotiations with Boris Johnson's government in the first week of the new parliament should most MSPs support independence. Like the SNP, Alba initially want the Scottish Government to seek an agreed referendum through a Section 30 order.

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"The world has changed since 2014 and changed utterly," Salmond told an Alba policy conference.

"The greater part of the planet is still trapped in a global health pandemic and even those countries which have either contained the viral threat, or are now vaccinating their way out of it, have yet to feel the full force of the economic headwinds which are the inevitable consequence.

"The United Kingdom and Scotland are emerging from the pandemic in a precarious position, out of not just the European Union but the European single market place.

"The geopolitical context of Scottish independence has been transformed in the seven years since the first independence referendum. However, one thing which remains unchanged, is SNP policy and the framework for independence which remains static, frozen in aspic, as if none of these fundamental changes affect the independence case.

"The admission in the last few days by the First Minister, that the SNP’s economic plans for independence had been overtaken by events is as revealing as it is disturbing."

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He added: "Clearly this is not a trap into which Alba is going to fall into in this election campaign or indeed in our contributions to the process of gaining independence. Our objective is to say that these matters need to be faced, preparations laid and objectives determined as we move into independence negotiations.

"The campaign endorsement of Alba from Peterhead fisherman, John Buchan, skipper of the Fairline, should be compulsory viewing for all candidates standing in this election. John argues that the key priority right now for even Scotland’s most Brexit inclined communities, is early and immediate return to the European market place on which they relied for their livelihood.

"Boris Johnson pledged that Brexit for the Scottish fishing industry would be the re-assertion of control of Scottish waters and friction-free access to their European market. He has delivered neither. Dealing with where we are, and not where we would like to be with independence, maximum pressure on the Johnson government to deliver must be asserted by the parliament and government elected on 6th May.  I don't mean just pressure. I mean relentless pressure, day-in-and-day-out, until the immediate problems are resolved."

He continued: "In 2014 Scotland would have started negotiations on the independence settlement from within not just the European Union but the single market and customs union. Although some unionists suggested that Scotland might be out in the cold before being admitted into membership of the European Union, no serious commentator thought that Scotland would have been excluded only then to be readmitted.

"In 2021 the context is totally different. European access would have to be negotiated from outside. Scotland could reasonably expect to go through an accelerated process of accession but this would still be a matter of years not months. Nor would negotiations be easy with Scotland, unless taking action to find a secure starting position, being forced to negotiate from weakness not strength.

  "The solution is to fix the economics and only then turn to the politics. There are opportunities for readmission to the single market and indeed the European Economic Area which take months, not years. Scotland should seek to negotiate that European position simultaneously with negotiating independence with Westminster.

"The secure position that Scotland should be looking for, is membership of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), membership of the single market and the European Economic Area. In addition, as an interim proposal at least, it will be beneficial to stay within a customs union of the UK nations and certainly within the single travel area across the British Isles, first established in 1923 with the foundation of the Irish Free State. In due course, Scotland could then take a judgement on the best permanent route forward having secured the tradeable economic base of the country.

"It should be noticed that membership of EFTA is no barrier to economic success. The four existing EFTA countries - Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein - are all comfortably in the world’s top twenty countries of wealth per head.

"This strategy does not remove all of the issues and damage that Brexit has generated, but it does provide an attractive prospect for Scotland to establish membership of EFTA, the single marketplace and the European Economic Area. This is a matter of urgency. It could then develop into a long term framework or alternatively be seen as a secure staging post from which to further negotiate full European Union membership, if that is the wish of the Scottish people. Either way, it is to Scotland’s benefit and needs to be done”.

The First Minister has accused Salmond of damaging the independence cause by putting off undecided voters. She maintained she would not work with him if he won election to Holyrood.

"When I listen to people who talk about supermajorities, they sound as if they think we can just bulldoze our way to independence, which is almost contemptuous towards those that we need to persuade," she said.

A Scottish Greens spokesman said: "The Scottish Greens believe Scotland's future lies in Europe, with our own seat at the European table as an independent nation.

"Scotland would have the powers and potential to be a leader in the EU, working with partners across the continent to tackle the climate emergency that threatens our existence, as well as making the EU fairer from within."

Pro-independence and Euro sceptic party Scotia Future welcomed Salmond's announcement on favouring EFTA membership initially for an independent Scotland.

"Alba has now followed Scotia Future, and the ISP, in favouring an EFTA style deal for an independent Scotland, and rejecting the SNP's flawed option of a increasingly centralised EU, and this is very welcome as Scotland needs a real debate about this," said its Holyrood candidate Councillor Andy Doig.

"However we favour a Swiss style deal as there are still serious issues with EU procurement policy and state aid policy which inhibits the freedom of sovereign governments. For example, after 2023 state run railway networks in the EU will need to be opened to market conpetition, why?.

"The EU, with its drive towards not only political but military union - with the apparent blessing of the SNP leadership who are now multilaterist- will drive other small countries such as Ireland and Sweden, to look at EFTA afresh as a bloc which respects national sovereignty and maintains jobs and trade."

He added: "Alba is right to promote the primacy of jobs and trade at the moment, but Scotia Future would caution them that the abject failure of an EU reform agenda in any sense, means that Scottish interests ultimately lie with the other small nations of Europe, not a centralised and pro austerity EU."

The SNP have been approached for comment.