Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of trying to "shamelessly flog Scottish independence" to the EU after wooing the bloc in a German newspaper article.
Writing in Die Welt, a national daily broadsheet, the First Minister argued there was no contradiction between her "stated desire for solidarity" with the European Union and her dream of leaving the UK.
She said the UK Government is "determined to turn its back on cooperation, consensus and solidarity" but the EU was a "partnership of equals where decisions require consent and often unanimity from members."
Ms Sturgeon also launched an outspoken attack on the UK Government's Brexit negotiating stance, accusing it of a "utterly reckless" determination to leave without a deal.
She said its approach runs "entirely counter to the Scottish Government's vision for our country" and her government had concluded that "the best future for our country is as an independent nation within the EU."
Her article appeared the day after an opinion poll showed support for independence at a record 58 per cent, prompting the SNP to claim that separation was Scots' "settled will."
But, although she emphasised she did not want a border in Ireland, Ms Sturgeon did not address warnings that a separate Scotland in the EU with the UK outside the bloc would require a border with England.
The article also did not mention Scotland's yawning public spending deficit even before the pandemic struck. It stood at 8.6 per cent of GDP last year - nearly three times the 3 per cent required for EU membership.
Exclusive: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon bids for EU support for Scotland's independence in an op-ed @welt The UK gov was 'turning its back on cooperation, consensus and solidarity'. Therefore Scotland 'needs an alternative way forward' (1/3) https://t.co/OxXwH3oPGj
— StefanieBolzen (@StefanieBolzen) October 15, 2020
Dean Lockhart, the Scottish Conservative constitution spokesman, said: "In the middle of a global pandemic, Scottish people will be downright furious that Nicola Sturgeon thinks it’s a good use of her time to shamelessly flog Scottish independence in Germany.
“This is a distraction when lives and livelihoods are on the line. The last thing that Scotland needs right now is the division and uncertainty of another independence referendum.”
Ms Sturgeon was accused last month of undermining Britain's negotiating position in the Brexit talks after it emerged her ministers had told senior EU figures in February that the UK Government would have to soften its position on fishing rights.
Regular discussions have taken place between senior figures in the Scottish government and the European Commission, including Nicola Ms Sturgeon and Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator.
In her article, Ms Sturgeon said her government would not be represented at this week's EU Council summit to discuss Brexit but "Scotland's interests will be very much at stake in what is discussed."
She said "we have no direct say in the outcome of the negotiations" despite "Scotland as a country" overwhelmingly voting Remain in the 2016 referendum.
The SNP leader praised the EU's "founding values" and the four freedoms of its internal market, singling out freedom of movement for particular praise. She also emphasised her respect for international law following the row over the Internal Market Bill.
"Some people may question the compatibility of my stated desire for solidarity with the desire for independence. However, in reality, the two go hand in hand," she wrote.
"It is precisely because we have a UK Government that is determined to turn its back on cooperation, consensus and solidarity that Scotland needs an alternative way forward."