Nicola Sturgeon will travel to Brussels on Wednesday to open talks with European officials in a bid to keep Scotland inside the EU, she has confirmed.
During an emergency debate on the result of the EU referendum in the Scottish parliament on Tuesday, the first minister said she will meet with the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, to set out the Scottish government's position.
Sturgeon also confirmed she has set up a panel of experts, headed by the principal of the University of Glasgow Anton Muscatelli, to advise her government on how to maintain Scotland's EU membership after 62% of Scottish voters opted to remain last week.
"We are in touch with both the European Commission and the European parliament in Brussels, responding to messages of encouragement and support for the work ahead of us," said Sturgeon.
"In those contacts, we have again emphasised the overwhelming support in Scotland for the European Union and the commitment of the Scottish government to protecting our relationship with Europe – but these contacts are just the start.
"Tomorrow, I will make an initial visit to Brussels to set out Scotland’s position and interests to representatives of the major groups in the European parliament and to the President of the European parliament, Martin Schulz."
BuzzFeed News understands Sturgeon will also meet Guy Verhofstadt, the president of the Liberals and Democrats for Europe group in the European parliament, who has tweeted his support for Scotland's continued membership, among other sympathetic figures during the one-day trip.
A senior Scottish government source said: "We’re clear that the first minister will go to Brussels with a mandate on behalf of the parliament and Scotland to seek all avenues to protect our EU membership.
"To do that we need to speak to as many people as possible, and this trip will be an initial step in that process to build as much support as possible. There will be more in the coming weeks."
Sky News later reported that Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, has turned down a meeting with Sturgeon.
But a Scottish government source said: "We weren't expecting to [meet Tusk], he has a council meeting to chair and 27 / 8 member states to sort out."
Sturgeon's announcement came after SNP MEP Alyn Smith received a standing ovation in the European parliament for pleading with parliamentarians that: "Scotland did not let you down; please, I beg you, chers collègues, do not let Scotland down now."
During the Holyrood debate, each party except the Conservatives backed a motion Sturgeon put forward to give her a mandate to speak to officials from EU member states, and she insisted that supporting her in doing so was not support for a second referendum on independence.
"If the government does conclude that the best or only way to protect Scotland’s place in the EU is through a referendum on independence we will return to parliament with that judgment and it will then, at that time, be for parliament to decide," she said.
"I am emphatically not asking parliament to endorse that step today."
Later in the emergency debate, Scottish Labour leader launched a furious attack on Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, saying she "struggled to put into words" the anger she felt at the Tories for "putting the future of the UK in danger" by increasing the likelihood of a fresh independence referendum.
"[The Scottish Conservative Holyrood election campaign] had no vision for Scotland whatsoever and boiled down to just two key messages," said Dugdale. "One, that you can only trust the Tories to protect the union – how is that going now Ruth?
"Two, that the Tories would offer a 'strong opposition' and all that they stand opposed to today, is giving the first minister some support to speak to EU institutions about our future.
Dugdale added: "The Tories have put the future of the UK in danger at every turn and it’s high time they shouldered responsibility for that."
However, Davidson reaffirmed her support for the union between Scotland and the UK in the wake of the referendum result, saying: "You do not dampen the shock waves caused by one referendum by lighting the fuse for another.
“Nor by saying that the economic impact of leaving one union means you should sever ties with a greater union whose value in trade eclipses it many times over. Referendums are not just bruising, they can be wounding.
“From now on, I hope we still find time to learn the right lessons – not the wrong ones – to emerge as a stronger society, a better nation, and a still United Kingdom.”
Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.
Contact Jamie Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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