THE Scottish Government will “make no apology” for trying to pave the way for Scotland to rejoin the EU, Michael Russell has said.

It comes after Unionists reacted furiously to the apparent revelation that Nicola Sturgeon and her ministers had been making the case for Scotland to re-enter the bloc to senior officials in Brussels.

In a series of letters and emails between January and February, released under Freedom of Information rules, the First Minister and her Cabinet members discussed potential avenues for Scotland to come back into the fold.

One of the responses to Sturgeon, from European Commission president Ursula von Der Leyen, read: “As you are aware, the European Commission will only negotiate with the Government of the United Kingdom.

“I understand that you are in contact with Michel Barnier … he will be happy to meet you again.”

The National: EU Commission president Ursula von der LeyenEU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen

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The First Minister held talks with Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, on two occasions last year, most recently in August.

Sturgeon’s team also asked in an email if it would be “possible for a photograph to be taken of Monsieur Barnier and the First Minister after their meeting for social media purposes”.

Those message provoked fury among Unionist politicians.

Russell, Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Michael Russell, hit back.

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He told the Express: “The Scottish Government will always stand up for Scotland’s interests, and we make no apology for doing so.

“The Tories have dragged Scotland out of the EU against our democratic will, and it is beyond belief that in the midst of a pandemic and recession Boris Johnson is determined to force on Scotland a low-deal, or even a catastrophic No-deal, Brexit outcome.

“It is little wonder that, as shown in poll after poll, independence is becoming the settled will of the people of Scotland.”

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Russell spoke out in response to furious outcries from Scottish Labour and Tory politicians, who were seemingly appalled by the First Minister’s efforts to explore routes back into the EU.

That’s despite 62% of Scots rejecting Brexit in 2016, with polls since then showing opposition to leaving the EU has increased.

Richard Leonard told the Express: “What this reveals is a First Minister more interested in photo opportunities and pretending to be the head of an independent state, when what the country needs is someone prepared to use the powers of devolution to save jobs, build houses, invest in our schools and protect our NHS.”

Dean Lockhart MSP, the Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman, added: “As the UK Government continues to do everything it can to secure a deal, it looks like the SNP has been constantly trying to interfere in the negotiations.

“At every point, the SNP have shown they are not interested in trying to get a deal that is good for Scotland and the whole UK.

“The EU has made it perfectly clear. It is the UK Government they are dealing with and the SNP should respect that.”