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[LONDON] Scotland would break away from the rest of the United Kingdom "within a heartbeat" if Britain left the European Union, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said on Thursday, warning against plans to hold an EU referendum by the end of 2017.
The comment from the leader of the junior coalition partner Liberal Democrats was aimed at Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, who has promised to put Britain's continuing EU membership to a public vote if he wins a May 7 general election.
"As night follows day, if the UK falls out of the European Union, Scotland, in my view, within a heartbeat, will pull out of the UK. We will - then have lost two unions in one parliament," Mr Clegg told reporters.
Scotland voted against independence in a referendum last September but a surge in nationalist sentiment since then has boosted the Scottish National Party (SNP) and is expected to see them make strong gains in May's ballot.
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has previously said that Britain withdrawing from the EU against Scotland's will would be democratically indefensible.