Scotland’s First Minister said that “by necessity” Scotland might have to pursue membership of the European Free Trade Association (Efta) before achieving full EU membership.
The SNP leader told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show her position remained that she wanted an independent Scotland to be in the EU.
But she suggested key questions affecting a future independent Scotland such as EU membership and currency would not be dealt with in the SNP’s general election manifesto.
“If Scotland is independent our position always has been, as long as I’ve been in the SNP and continues to be, that we want Scotland to be a full member of the European Union,” she said.
“We don’t want to go into the Euro and no member of the EU can be forced into the Euro and Sweden is one of the examples of that.
“Now we have to set out, if we’re in an independence referendum - and we’re not in that right now - the process for regaining or retaining, depending on where we are in the Brexit process, EU membership.
“Now it may be that we have a phased approach to that by necessity.”
Asked whether that could mean Efta membership first and EU membership later, she said: “It may be by necessity, even if we didn’t want that.
“We have to set that out at the time because there are still some uncertainties, many uncertainties, around the Brexit process.
“But in this election if we want to have a chance of protecting our place in the single market on which 80,000 Scottish jobs depend then vote SNP to strengthen our hand to try to do that.”
Last year the Scottish Government put forward proposals to allow Scotland as part of the UK to stay in the single market after Brexit, to reflect the majority vote to Remain north of the border.
Scotland’s Place in Europe argued that Scotland could join Efta and the European Economic Area (EEA), but UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said the proposals would ‘’not be deliverable”.
On the same programme, Ms Sturgeon defended her government’s record on education following the publication of the latest Scottish survey of literacy and numeracy (SSLN).
The survey showed fewer than half of Scotland’s 13 and 14-year-olds are able to write well while the writing performance of P4 and P7 pupils has also dropped.
Ms Sturgeon said she had been “very open that that’s not good enough” but added that a massive programme of reform was under way to address the challenges.
“We have had some advice that we need to have more of a focus within that curriculum on literacy and numeracy and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now,” she said.
Ms Sturgeon denied that Scottish education as a whole was going backwards, adding: “On literacy and numeracy we have a particular challenge but on many other measures of Scottish education that is just not true.”
She said new, more comprehensive, data being collected by the Scottish Government would ensure there was “no hiding place for any politician on the performance of Scottish education”.