Scotland is “highly likely” to seek a second independence referendum after much of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Scotland’s leader said on Friday, saying a forced departure from the EU would be “democratically unacceptable.”
Speaking in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she deeply regretted the outcome of Thursday’s historic referendum, emphasizing that a majority of Scottish voters had chosen to remain a part of the 28-member bloc.
“We voted to protect our place in the world’s biggest single market – and the jobs and investment that depend on it,” Sturgeon said. “We voted to safeguard our freedom to travel, live, work and study in other European countries.”
Scotland held an independence referendum in September 2014 during which 55 percent of voters chose to remain a part of the United Kingdom, but Sturgeon pointed out that a loss of EU membership as a result of independence had been a key factor for people to choose for the UK.
“So there is no doubt that yesterday’s result represents a significant and a material change of the circumstances in which Scotland voted against independence in 2014,” she said. “My job now is to act responsibly and in the interests of all of Scotland, and that is what I intend to do.”
Sturgeon said the Scottish cabinet will meet on Saturday morning to discuss the next steps in more detail, but confirmed that the government was already preparing legislation that would enable a second referendum on independence.
“I want to make it absolutely clear today that I intend to take all possible steps and explore all options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted – in other words, to secure our continuing place in the EU and in the single market in particular,” said Sturgeon, who was flanked by the EU and Scottish flags.
Legislation to hold a second referendum would need to be approved by the Scottish Parliament, which is likely to be in favor of such a vote, but the proposal may also require approval from the United Kingdom’s parliament in London.
Sturgeon, however, said it would be “inconceivable” given the circumstances if the UK’s parliament were to stand in the way. She said she would seek to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as soon as possible to discuss the potential options.
More than 1.5 million people in Scotland voted ‘Remain’ in Thursday’s referendum, or 62 percent to 38 percent with near-record turnout. Remain also won in all 32 council areas, making it the only country in the United Kingdom to achieve a clean sweep for Remains in all areas.
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