LONDON (Reuters) - Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond said on Tuesday that the biggest threat to Scotland staying in the European Union was British Prime Minister David Cameron's pledge to hold an in-out referendum on membership by 2017.
Salmond, the Scottish first minister, said he was confident that Scotland would be welcomed as an EU member if it voted on September. 18 to leave the United Kingdom after more than three centuries to become an independent nation.
Polls show Scots remain doubtful about separation from the United Kingdom, although the proportion of those supporting independence has increased this year. Many are still undecided.
Salmond said the advice he had received indicated that Scotland would most likely negotiate membership of the 28-member bloc after a vote for independence. He said Scotland would not be expelled or have to re-apply.
"There is a threat to Scottish membership and that threat is an in-out referendum in 2017 that the current prime minister proposes to hold," Salmond, leader of Scotland's ruling Scottish National Party (SNP), told BBC Radio.
"We don't have the same agonised debate (about EU membership) that is taking place in England."
Cameron has promised to try to renegotiate Britain's EU ties and to claw back a range of powers if re-elected next year and to then give Britons a referendum on whether to stay or remain inside the EU in 2017.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Guy Faulconbridge