TIM Farron has urged Nicola Sturgeon to “come on board” the Liberal Democrats’ campaign to have a second EU referendum as the only way to keep Scotland in the European Union.

The Lib Dem leader, speaking exclusively to The Herald at his party’s spring conference in York at the weekend, said the SNP would be “significant allies” in the cause to have a second vote on the precise Brexit deal in 2019 and the First Minister’s support would make a “huge difference” to the campaign.

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But he also accused Ms Sturgeon and her colleagues of “betraying” the 62 per cent of Remainers in Scotland by concentrating on their “pet project” of independence, which would guarantee the nation leaving the EU, when their focus should be on keeping it in.

Mr Farron, who insisted he did “not like referendums,” explained that, given Theresa May’s outright refusal to facilitate the Scottish Government staging another independence poll before Brexit, then, as things stood, Scotland would, like the rest of the UK, be heading out of the EU.

Describing the SNP’s drive for independence as a “constitutional cul de sac,” Mr Farron argued: “What we are looking at now is Scotland out of the UK, if Nicola Sturgeon gets her way, and Scotland out of Europe. The way she could really keep Scotland in Europe is to join with us and come on board for a referendum on a[Brexit] deal, so that the whole of Britain stays in the EU.”

He went on: “Scotland’s place in the EU is massively important, just as it is for the rest of the UK. I’m not in the mood to give up on it and these are the two years we have a chance to effect that outcome. For the SNP to go off on their pet project, when there is a moment to gather together and get a good result for Scotland and the rest of Britain, just seems absolutely negligent.”

In response to the party leader’s call for the SNP to join the Lib Dem bid for a second EU referendum, a Nationalist spokesman said: "Those who want to see Scotland protected from the disaster of a hard Tory Brexit should come on board with the SNP's plans to give people the choice over their future. With a vote at Holyrood this week, we challenge politicians from all parties to support the right of the Scottish people to choose."

Meantime, Mr Farron defended his remarks made during his keynote conference speech when he told delegates: “Patriots love their country, Nationalists hate their neighbours.”

Asked if he really believed the SNP hated the English, he said: "It's about separation, it's about isolation, it's about justifying one's own position by effectively demonising the others and what the SNP have done very cleverly over the last seven or eight years is use the word Westminster when they really mean England. That is something, which we shouldn't tolerate…”

The Lib Dem leader insisted there were “lots of good people” in the SNP but that the Nationalist movement contained a wide range of people, who, if they lived in England, could be in Ukip or the Socialist Worker’s Party.

“The fact they are all held together by this one absolute determination that Scotland somehow must be separated from the other nations of the UK, it's almost admirable this Stalinist discipline. But it is also deeply troubling. If your identity is important, identity politics is toxic,” he declared.

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The Cumbrian MP, who has Scottish relatives, said: “Scotland is wonderful, Scotland's people are wonderful; they're part of my identity…But you are looking at a movement, whose obsession with separating a part of the UK from the rest of its brothers and sisters in the UK is…about effectively demonising the other.

"That doesn't mean every SNP voter thinks like that, I don't think that for a second, but Nationalism is a divisive ism.”

He added: “It has often been used in the past as a force for progress when it is insurgent; I cannot think of a single example on planet Earth when Nationalism is a force for progress when it is ascendant."