EDINBURGH/BRUSSELS (Reuters/AFP) - Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was drawing up a new independence referendum, and will meet European Union leaders in Brussels on Wednesday (June 29) to discuss possible ways for Scotland to remain in the bloc after the United Kingdom as a whole voted to leave, she told the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday (June 28).
"Tomorrow I will make an initial visit to Brussels to set out Scotland's position and interests," said Ms Sturgeon, adding: "Through all of this I am determined, utterly determined to preserve Scotland's relationship and place within the EU."
Ms Sturgeon also said that she was drawing up legislation for a new independence referendum to ensure it could be held within the timeframe of Britain's expected negotiations on departing from the European Union. "We will prepare the legislation now," she said.
But she emphasised that Scotland was examining different options and was in "uncharted territory".
Scotland voted against independence in a 2014 referendum but Sturgeon on Tuesday said there had been "a very real and material change to Scotland's circumstances" since then.
Ms Sturgeon said she would meet European Parliament President Martin Schulz and planned to set out Scotland's position directly to the European Commission.
She said she would set out Scotland's position and interests to Mr Schulz and to representatives of the major groups of European lawmakers. She also said that after this week's European Council, she intended to discuss the Scottish issue directly with the European Commission, the EU's executive body.
"Our early priority has been to ensure that there is a widespread awareness across Europe of Scotland's different choice in the referendum and of our aspiration to stay in the EU," said Ms Sturgeon. "We will intensify this work in the days and weeks ahead. It is my responsibility to ensure that Scotland's voice is heard in Europe, and I intend to do so."
Ms Sturgeon said she had already discussed the fallout from the Brexit vote with the president and prime minister of Ireland, and that the Scottish government was directly in touch with the governments of other EU member states.
Turning to the situation in London, where Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his resignation and the Labour opposition is in meltdown, Ms Sturgeon said the political vacuum was unacceptable. "There cannot be three months of drift while both the government and main opposition parties at Westminster immerse themselves in internal elections. That would compound the difficult situation we are already facing and risk even more damage to our economy," she said.
As Ms Strugeon spoke, hundreds of pro-EU campaigners rallied outside the parliament building. "We want to give a message to Brussels that we want to stay," said Ms Joana Barrett, a 33-year-old children's charity worker.
Mr Richard Taylor, 48, a computer technician, said: "I feel very strongly about the issue of Scotland staying in the EU."
On Scotland's possible independence, he said the "chances have increased".
A large majority of Scots voted to stay within the EU in Thursday's referendum. Ms Sturgeon has said she will pursue all available options to maintain Scotland in the bloc and that a second referendum on Scottish independence from the UK is now"highly likely".
A special motion at Scotland's devolved Parliament later on Tuesday will aim to give the Scottish government backing for discussions both in Britain and in Europe on options for protecting Scotland's relationship with the EU and the single market.