The SNP leader said there was a “real chance” of a second independence referendum north of the Border if Scots were forced out of the EU by English votes.
But she said the interests of a future independent Scotland would be best served by having a neighbour to the south that was a member of the 28-nation bloc, and stated: “I don’t want Scotland to become independent because the UK chooses to leave the European Union.”
In a speech in London, the First Minister said she was targeting an “overwhelming” vote to remain in the EU in the 23 June referendum.
She called for an “uplifting” and “positive” campaign to stay, cautioning that the Remain camp cannot afford to lose support with a message based on fear, as she claimed happened in Scotland in 2014.
“I hope that the debate that we engage in over the next few months is a thoroughly positive debate, because one of the undoubted lessons of the Scottish experience is that a miserable, negative, fear-based campaign saw the No campaign in the Scottish referendum lose over the course of the campaign a 20-point lead,” Ms Sturgeon told a meeting hosted by the Resolution Foundation in Westminster’s Smith Square.
“I don’t have to point out to anybody here that the In campaign in this referendum doesn’t have a 20-point lead to squander.”
Ms Sturgeon said there was “no contradiction” between believing in independence for Scotland while also supporting membership of the EU.
“If Scotland were to vote in favour of EU membership and the rest of the UK were to vote to leave – if Scotland in other words was to be outvoted – then there is a real chance that that could lead to a second referendum on Scottish independence,” she said.
But she added: “It’s not what I want to happen. Of course, I do want Scotland to be independent, but I don’t want Scotland to become independent because the UK chooses to leave the European Union. I want the UK as a whole to stay in the EU because I think that option will be better for the rest of the UK, I think it will be better for the EU and, should Scotland become independent in the future – something I believe will happen – I think it will be better for us too.
“Ireland’s stance on the UK referendum is good evidence of this. Why wouldn’t we want our closest neighbour also to be a member of the EU?”
Ms Sturgeon said: “I want the vote on 23 June to result in an overwhelming victory, across all parts of the UK, for remaining in the EU. I will campaign wholeheartedly to achieve that result. ”
She cited the social protections guaranteed by the EU, as well as its economic benefits, as key arguments for remaining in the union.
And she said Scotland had long experience of choosing to pool some of its sovereignty with neighbours for mutual advantage, in a process which she described as “the way of the modern world today”.
Jack Montgomery, Scottish spokesman for Leave.EU, said: “It’s extremely sad that the SNP, dedicated to the cause of national self-determination, feels unable to raise its voice against Brussels, and extremely telling that Jim Sillars, architect of the party’s Independence in Europe policy, no longer supports EU membership.
“In the UK or out, Scotland will benefit from the sweeping new powers over agriculture, fisheries and industrial policy which Brexit will bring to Holyrood.”
Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Nicola Sturgeon is once again showing there is no limit to the SNP’s hypocrisy.
“In the independence referendum campaign, people were bombarded with leaflets warning them that the NHS would be wrecked if they voted No. Now she has the brass neck to preach to the rest of the UK about the need to avoid scare tactics.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said she was willing to share a platform with Ms Sturgeon in the pro-EU campaign.
However, said she will avoid sharing a platform with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, who has permitted her MSPs to campaign for a Brexit despite her personal view that the UK should remain in the EU.
Ms Dugdale said: “I would be very happy to share a platform with Nicola Sturgeon on the issue of Europe. I think we would be making some, if not many, of the same or similar arguments.”