Tony Blair has said the case for Scottish independence is “much more credible” after the Brexit vote.
The former prime minister warned the break-up of the UK is now “back on the table” but said he does not want Scotland to become independent.
In a speech in London for Open Britain, which is campaigning against a so-called “hard Brexit” outside the European single market, Mr Blair called on pro-Europeans to “rise up” and persuade Leave voters to change their minds in the face of a Conservative government pursing “Brexit at any cost”.
He said: “In addition to all this, there is the possibility of the break-up of the UK, narrowly avoided by the result of the Scottish referendum, but now back on the table, but this time with a context much more credible for the independence case.”
Questioned following the speech, he added: “I want Scotland to remain in the UK. Even if Brexit goes ahead, I’m still in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK.
“Let’s be very clear, Scotland’s single market with England is of far greater importance to it economically than Scotland’s interaction with the rest of Europe.
“When myself and John Major warned this would be a threat to the UK we meant it, and it was true, and you can see that by the referendum coming back on the agenda.”
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said another independence referendum is “almost inevitable” in the event of a hard Brexit.
The SNP argues since a majority in Scotland voted to Remain, this represents a material change in circumstances sufficient to make the case for a second independence vote.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “Tony Blair is right about Europe but wrong about independence.
“The Conservatives’ hard Brexit is bad for Britain’s economy, which is why the public need the final say on the deal.
“But Tony Blair is wrong about independence. The case for independence is weaker, not stronger, now, especially with the £15 billion black hole in the Scottish public finances that would hit our NHS and schools.”
Labour and Tories also criticised Mr Blair’s claims of credibility but the SNP said his comments “reflect the reality”.
Scottish Labour Westminster spokesman Ian Murray said: “The Tory Brexit chaos has certainly given the SNP the excuse it was looking for to stoke up more grievance.
“But the reality is that the economic case for separation is even worse now than when the people of Scotland rejected it in 2014.
“On jobs, public finances, currency, trade, investment in schools and hospitals, and much more, Scotland benefits from remaining part of the UK.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Tony Blair may not be aware of it but the fact is that only around a quarter of people in Scotland want another referendum on independence now.”
He said the SNP’s attempts to use Brexit to muster support for another Scottish independence referendum had “failed”.
SNP Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins said: ”The case for independence is more compelling than ever and will only become even more so when the full impact of a Tory hard Brexit with its economic and other consequences starts to become clear.
“Tony Blair’s comments simply reflect the reality that the independence debate now is fundamentally different to the one in 2014 – and the Tories’ threat of a hard Brexit at any cost to Scotland is only going to see support for an independent Scotland rise further still.
” We are determined to keep Scotland’s place in the European single market – which is around eight times bigger than the UK’s alone – and independence must be an option if it becomes clear it is the best or only way of doing so.”
Ross Greer MSP, the Scottish Greens’ external affairs spokesman, said: “The case for independence is stronger now than it has ever been.
“Independence would allow Scotland to stay with Europe and avoid the angry, isolated Brexit Britain planned by the Tories, one which will cost Scotland 80,000 jobs, a £2,000 drop in average wages and worse.”