"Second Independence referendum ‘highly likely’ after Brexit" says Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon has warned the UK a second vote on Scottish independence is "highly likely" after Britons delivered a shock Brexit victory in the European referendum despite Scots voting overwhelmingly to remain.
The Scottish First Minister and SNP leader confirmed her government will now begin to draw up the legislation that could see another independence referendum take place within the next two years.
Across the UK, 52% of voters backed leaving the European Union, a verdict which resulted in David Cameron announcing he would step down as Prime Minister before October's Conservative conference.
The result was welcomed by US Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who hailed it as an "amazing vote".
The controversial tycoon, visiting one of his golf resorts in Scotland, said of Leave campaign's victory: ''Basically, they took back their country. That's a great thing."
In Scotland, 62% of those who voted backed the UK staying in Europe, with all 32 council areas returning a majority for Remain.
Ms Sturgeon said: "As things stand, Scotland faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU against our will. I regard that as democratically unacceptable."
The SNP manifesto for May's Holyrood elections said the Scottish Parliament "should have the right to hold another referendum if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014", such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its wishes.
"It is, therefore, a statement of the obvious that a second referendum must be on the table, and it is on the table," Ms Sturgeon declared.
When Westminster triggers the process to withdraw from Europe later this year, she said "the UK will be on a two-year path to the EU exit door".
The SNP leader added: "If Parliament judges that a second referendum is the best or only way to protect our place in Europe, it must have the option to hold one within that timescale.
"That means we must act now to protect that position. I can therefore confirm today in order to protect that position we will begin to prepare the legislation that will be required to enable a new independence referendum to take place if and when Parliament so decides."
Ms Sturgeon, who campaigned for a Remain vote, said: "This is not a situation that I wanted Scotland or the UK to be in today."
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, another prominent figure in the pro-EU camp, said staging a second independence referendum is not "in the best interests of the people of Scotland".
Recalling the result of the 2014 ballot on independence, Ms Davidson said: "The 1.6 million votes cast in this referendum in favour of remain do not wipe away the two million votes that we cast less than two years ago.
"We do not address the challenges of leaving the European Union by leaving our own Union of nations, our biggest market and our closest friends."
Former Labour first minister Henry McLeish said the debate over Scotland's future had "massively changed overnight".
"The issue is we have now left the EU and Scots now have to make a decision on where they think their true interests lie," Mr McLeish said.
''I have great difficulty, great political difficulty and personal difficulty, being part of the UK that is no longer a part of the EU.''
Harry Potter author JK Rowling, a high-profile supporter of the UK during the 2014 referendum, tweeted that "many No voters will think again now".
Ms Sturgeon, who addressed the media at her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, said: "There are many people who voted against independence in 2014 who are today reassessing their decision, indeed a very large number of them have contacted me already."
She insisted: "I am proud of Scotland and how we voted yesterday.
"We proved we are a modern, outward-looking, open and inclusive country, and we said clearly that we do not want to leave the European Union.
"I am determined that we will do what it takes to make sure that these aspirations are realised."
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said the Conservatives' "gamble" with the country's place in Europe is now hammering the economy and risking the future of the UK.
He said: "This referendum was a reckless gamble inflicted on the UK by a Conservative Party leader more focused on the divisions in his party than doing the right thing for our country and its economy.
"With the pound and the markets plummeting, the economy is already feeling the heat from this Brexit decision.
"Brexit is risking the future of the United Kingdom, too, with the SNP hungry for another referendum on independence.
"The Conservatives can no longer claim to be a party for a strong economy or the strongest defenders of the Union with the rest of the UK."
Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale described the Brexit victory as a "bad result for jobs and for the economy in Scotland and the UK".
She discussed the UK's vote to leave the EU with Ms Sturgeon on Friday afternoon.
Ms Dugdale said: "We both have profound disagreements about the constitutional future of Scotland but I stand ready to work with her in the best interests of the people of Scotland.
"Now is the time for calm heads. Labour's manifesto ruled out a second referendum in the lifetime of this Parliament - we won't be changing our minds any time soon.
"However, on the question of independence, many of the fundamental questions that were unresolved and unanswered in 2014, remain so. Not least the question of currency.
"What we don't need today is more turmoil, more upheaval and more economic chaos."