Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed a second referendum on Scotland's independence is now "highly likely" after the country voted decisively to stay in the EU while the UK overall voted to leave.
Scotland's first minister, speaking in Edinburgh flanked by an EU flag and a Scottish saltire, said she will now prepare legislation to allow the Scottish parliament to hold another referendum on independence when it chooses to do so.
The SNP leader reiterated the pledge, made in the party's manifesto ahead of last month's Scottish election, that said Scotland should hold the right to have another referendum in the event that it is taken out of the EU against its will.
"Scotland does now face that prospect," said the first minister. "It is a significant and material change in circumstances and it is therefore a statement of the obvious that the option of a second referendum must be on the table, and it is on the table."
In Thursday's referendum, 62% of voters in Scotland opted to remain inside the EU. However, England's much larger and more anti-EU population led to a 52% Leave vote overall which Sturgeon said was "democratically unacceptable" and she will now "explore all options" to maintain Scotland's membership.
Sturgeon added that, should it choose to hold another independence referendum, the Scottish parliament would seek to do so within the two-year period it would take the UK to leave the EU under article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
"If parliament judges that a second referendum is the best or only way to protect our place in Europe it must have the option the hold one in that timescale," she said. "That means we must act now to protect that position.
"I can therefore confirm today that in order to protect that position we will begin to prepare the legislation that would be required to enable a new independence referendum to take place if and when so parliament decides."
The Scottish parliament doesn't currently hold the power to call for another independence referendum, but Sturgeon said it would "inconceivable" that the UK government would stand in the way of Scotland's parliament if it chooses to hold another referendum in the current circumstances.
"Obviously we would seek to follow the same precedent we did the last time," said the first minister. "But ... if the Scottish parliament decides that’s an option it wants to exercise, I think it would be inconceivable, particularly in the circumstances that have given rise to this, that the UK government would seek to stand in its way."
Sturgeon said she will spend the coming weekend contacting member states of the EU to ensure they know Scotland chose to remain and she is seeking "direct discussions" between the Scottish government and the president of the European Council.
The first minister added that she has spoken to London mayor Sadiq Khan and it's clear that Scotland and London share "clear common cause" after the city also voted decisively to Remain.
"I think an independence referendum is now highly likely but I think it’s important we take time to consider all steps, not least to consider the response of the European Union to the vote that Scotland expressed yesterday," said Sturgeon.
"I am absolutely determined in my responsibility to give effect to how Scotland voted yesterday and it’s important I take all steps to explore all options to do exactly that."