A vote to leave the European Union against Scotland's wishes would "almost certainly" trigger another independence referendum, Nicola Sturgeon has warned.
The Scottish First Minister and SNP leader said if England voted to leave the EU while Scotland voted to remain there would be an "inescapable" shift in public opinion towards independence to guarantee the country’s continued EU membership.
"I think that would be the demand of people in Scotland,” she told the BBC.
"Let me say very clearly that I don't want this scenario to arise. I hope the UK as a whole votes to stay in the EU for a whole variety of different reasons.
"But if you cast your mind back to the Scottish referendum, the No campaign then said if Scotland voted Yes then our membership of the EU would be at risk. That was rubbish then, but that was a key argument.
"If, a couple of years later, we find ourselves, having voted to stay in the EU, being taken out against our will, I think there will be many people - including people who voted No in 2014 - who would say the only way to guarantee our EU membership is to be independent.
"That, I think, is inescapable."
She added: "I personally know people who were passionate in their No vote in 2014 who would change their minds if we were in that scenario.
"That, I think, is just something that is inevitable."
What has the EU ever done for us?
What has the EU ever done for us?
1/7 1. It gives you freedom to live, work and retire anywhere in Europe
As a member of the EU, UK citizens benefit from freedom of movement across the continent. Considered one of the so-called four pillars of the European Union, this freedom allows all EU citizens to live, work and travel in other member states.
2/7 2. It sustains millions of jobs
A report by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, released in October 2015, suggested 3.1 million British jobs were linked to the UK’s exports to the EU.
3/7 3. Your holiday is much easier - and safer
Freedom to travel is one of the most exercised benefits of EU membership, with Britons having made 31 million visits to the EU in 2014 alone. But a lot of the benefits of being an EU citizen are either taken for granted or go unnoticed.
4/7 4. It means you're less likely to get ripped off
Consumer protection is a key benefit of the EU’s single market, and ensures members of the British public receive equal consumer rights when shopping anywhere in Europe.
5/7 5. It offers greater protection from terrorists, paedophiles, people traffickers and cyber-crime
Another example of a lesser-known advantage of EU membership is the benefit of cross-country coordination and cooperation in the fight against crime.
6/7 6. Our businesses depend on it
According to 71% of all members of the Confederation of British Influence (CBI), and 67 per cent of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the EU has had an overall positive impact on their business.
7/7 7. We have greater influence
Robin Niblett, Director of think-tank Chatham House, stated in a report published last year: “For a mid-sized country like the UK, which will never again be economically dominant either globally or regionally, and whose diplomatic and military resources are declining in relative terms, being a major player in a strong regional institution can offer a critical lever for international influence.
Ms Sturgeon acknowledged that an independent Scotland in the EU would have to negotiate its border arrangements if the remainder of the UK was outside the EU.
She added that said she has "no proposals" to use her new devolved powers to top up benefits for migrants, but said EU migrants have had a positive impact on the UK economy.
She also spoke of her fears for employment rights and social protections under the Tories if the UK leaves the EU.
"David Cameron seems to want an EU where the social and employment protections that it brings are watered down," she said.
"For me these are parts of the reasons for being in the EU, and one of the reasons why it would worry me greatly if the UK was to come out of the EU, as we would then have David Cameron's majority Conservative government unfettered when it came to employment rights or social protections."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: Ms Sturgeon was “too keen” to talk up a defeat in the EU referendum to advance her cause.
"It is welcome that Nicola Sturgeon supports remaining in the EU, but we need her to support the campaign 100% rather than using every opportunity to talk abut what happens if we lose.
"The EU referendum campaign must not be used as a proxy campaign for independence. The EU debate deserves a laser-like focus, just like the independence debate. With economic, social and security benefits, the European Union is good for the UK."