Scotland starts drive to stay in EU, independence option open: Sturgeon

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Scotland's devolved government will start a drive to protect its European Union membership and will prepare for a possible fresh independence vote after Britain voted to exit the bloc, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Saturday.

"We are determined to act decisively in a way that builds unity across Scotland," Sturgeon told reporters, adding that included preparing legislation to allow a vote on Scottish secession from the United Kingdom.

Scots rejected independence in a 2014 referendum by 55-45 percent and at the time the vote was considered a decisive verdict for a generation.

However, since then Sturgeon's ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) has strengthened its support in national elections. It now believes Thursday's EU referendum outcome has changed the picture on independence.

While Britain as a whole voted to leave the EU, Scotland voted by 62 to 38 percent to remain. The SNP argues that many Scots opted to remain part of the United Kingdom in 2014 because they believed that was the only way to guarantee EU membership.

Sturgeon said Scotland would not allow its EU membership to be taken away without exploring all the possibilities.

"We will seek to enter into immediate discussions with the EU institutions and with other EU member states to explore all possible options to protect Scotland's place in the EU," said Sturgeon, speaking outside her official residence.

She reiterated that an independence vote could be offered.

"A second (Scottish) independence referendum is clearly an option that requires to be on the table, and it is very much on the table," she said.

She added she would also establish a panel of experts to advise the Scottish government on legal, financial and diplomatic matters concerning EU membership.

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