Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday it is "highly likely" that Scotland will hold a second independence referendum because of Britain's decision to withdraw from the European Union.
She said she will seek powers to hold a second vote because of her desire to keep Scotland in the European bloc.
The popular leader said she was keeping a promise made by the Scottish National Party to consider a second independence vote "if there was a significant and material change in circumstance" from that which prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against its will.
"I think an independence referendum is now highly likely, but I also think it's important that we take time to consider all steps, and to have the discussions, not least to assess the response of the European Union to the vote that Scotland expressed on Friday," she said. "I am absolutely determined in my responsibility to give effect to how Scotland voted on Friday."
An earlier referendum vote in 2014 saw independence rejected as Scottish voters chose to stay part of Britain.
Sixty-two percent of Scottish voters backed remaining in the EU, and Sturgeon said that it was "democratically unacceptable" for it to have to be taken out of the EU against its will.
She called for the Scottish government to be fully involved in all discussions between Britain and the EU and said she will seek direct negotiations with other European states with the aim of keeping Scotland in Europe.
"If (the Scottish) 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," Sturgeon said. "In order to protect that position we will begin to prepare the legislation required to enable a new independence referendum to take place."
Scotland could not stage a second referendum without consent from the UK Parliament.
Pro-independence business leaders have also called on the Scottish government to begin talks with the EU to try to keep Scotland in.
"The Scottish government should immediately begin talks with the EU for Scotland to remain a member, even though the rest of the UK may exit, and to clarify that an independent Scotland would be the continuing member state, inheriting the UK's EU membership in the event of a 'Yes' vote in a Scottish independence referendum," said Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp, chief executive of Business for Scotland.
However, Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, who are the main opposition force in Edinburgh politics, said that she did not believe a second independence referendum would help Scotland achieve stability or be in the best interests of its people.
"The 1.6 million votes cast in this (EU) referendum in favour of 'remain' do not wipe away the 2 million votes that we cast less than two years ago (to stay in the UK)," she said.
A vote for Scottish independence would end the 300-year old union between Scotland and England at a time when it already has to deal with a complex fallout from Brexit.
It would also transform the political landscape in the rump of the United Kingdom by making it much harder for the Labour party to win power in London, as the party has relied on Scottish votes in the past.
— The SNP (@theSNP) June 24, 2016
With inputs from agencies.
Updated Date: Jun 25, 2016 12:18:17 IST