Alex Salmond 'caught out' on EU legal advice

Lawyers told him independent Scotland would not have automatic membership, sources say

Scotland's law officers consistently told Alex Salmond's Holyrood government that an independent Scotland's future inside the European Union was not automatic and was a "policy objective" that required "detailed negotiations", legal sources close to the First Minister have told The Independent on Sunday.

Mr Salmond's chief legal advisers over the past seven years – the Lord Advocate and Solicitor General – authorised documents on independence and the 2014 referendum only on the condition that the need for "negotiations" with bodies such as the EU were spelled out in non-legal language.

Renewed focus on the caveats on negotiations included in key government documents such as the 2007 Choosing Scotland's Future and the 2009 Your Scotland, Your Voice are likely to cause Mr Salmond further trouble this week when MSPs demand clarification on what legal advice his administration was given over Scotland's future in Europe.

Last week, Mr Salmond insisted Holyrood's law officers approved documents published in 2007, 2009, and 2012 which he said made it clear that an independent Scotland would continue as a member of the EU. That position contradicted the assertion of his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, who claimed legal advice had only been requested after the independence agreement was signed by Mr Salmond and David Cameron last week.

Earlier this year, Mr Salmond told Andrew Neil on the BBC that an independent Scotland would hold EU membership automatically and would not need to join the euro.

But his failure to reveal the legal caveats on the need for negotiations was criticised last night by the Labour MEP, Catherine Stihler.

In May last year, Ms Stihler took legal action to force Mr Salmond into publishing the advice that he was given. "Nicola Sturgeon claimed all the Scottish government had was a blank sheet of paper. Now it is emerging that Mr Salmond was told that "negotiations2 would be required on EU membership and nothing was automatic.

"We need to know what information Mr Salmond is continuing to hide and why he refuses to reveal what legal advice he was given," Ms Stihler said yesterday.

The row over the nationalists' claim that Scotland would automatically become an EU member state, and inherit the UK opt-out on joining the euro, is already damaging Mr Salmond's credibility.

The Scottish Sun newspaper, which has previously supported the SNP, branded Mr Salmond an "EU liar".

The former chancellor Alistair Darling, leading the unionist alliance, accused the First Minister of "blatant manipulation". He said: "Alex Salmond has been wounded. He has been caught out."

The president of the EU, Jose Manuel Barroso, recently said an independent Scotland would be regarded as a "new state" and therefore would "have to apply to become a member of the EU" by opening talks on the terms of its entry.

Last night, a spokesman for the Scottish government said "Ministers have always been clear that there would be negotiation, but from within the EU."