Scotland's first minister Nicola Sturgeon has begun preparations to hold a second referendum on Scottish independence before the end of 2018, she confirmed this morning after the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Sturgeon said that the result of yesterday's vote represented a "significant and material change" in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK, adding she does not want Scotland to be "dragged out" of the EU against its wishes.
Speaking at the official residence of the First Minister, Sturgeon said:
"I want to make it absolutely clear that I intend to take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted.
"An independence referendum is now highly likely ... It is a statement of the obvious that a second referendum must be on the table - and it is on the table.
"I can, therefore, confirm today, that we will begin to prepare the legislation that would be required to enable a new independence referendum to take place."
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Scotland was one of only three regions - along with London and Northern Ireland - to vote to Remain in the EU, with 62 per cent voting to stay.
The SNP outlined in its manifesto for Scottish parliamentary elections last month that if Scotland voted to stay in the EU but the UK as a whole left, it would seek to hold a second referendum on independence.
Nicola Sturgeon said she wants to hold a vote before the UK formally leaves the EU under the Article 50 procedure. David Cameron said this morning that he would leave the timing of Britain's exit to his successor, who will be in place by October. Assuming his successor triggers this immediately, Sturgeon said she believes a second independence referendum could take place by October 2018.
The SNP leader, who succeeded Alex Salmond after independence was rejected in September 2014, said she would also be willing to proceed without the formal support or endorsement of Westminster.