Scotland's First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, addresses the media after holding an emergency cabinet meeting at Bute House in Edinburgh, Scotland on June 25, 2016, following the pro-Brexit result of the UK's EU referendum vote. (AFP)
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suspended plans for a snap second referendum on Scottish independence, saying more consultations are needed amid a decline in public support for leaving the United Kingdom.
On Tuesday, Sturgeon said a new referendum bill would be deliberated publicly before making it law, adding that, although a second referendum was “highly likely” in the wake of the Brexit vote, further examination of other options would be required.
“We will consult on a draft referendum bill so that it is ready for immediate introduction if we conclude that independence is the best or only way to protect Scotland’s interests,” she said.
The consultation process could start at some time next year.
According to a new opinion poll conducted by the Times newspaper, the majority of Scottish voters are opposed to a new referendum on independence. The survey showed that 50% of Scots oppose holding another independence referendum before the UK leaves the European Union (EU), while 37% are in favor, and 13% are undecided.
Sturgeon said  in a Friday speech in the central Scottish city of Stirling  that she would trigger the "biggest ever political listening exercise" to convince voters a second referendum was needed.
The Scottish first minister said every poll taken since Britain’s Leave vote had shown an escalation of support for independence in comparison with the 2014 referendum, when voters backed staying in the UK by 55 percent to 45.
"The UK that Scotland voted to stay part of has changed and so too have the arguments for and against independence," Sturgeon added.
After the UK’s decision to leave the 28-member bloc, Sturgeon tasked the Scottish government with presenting legislation to allow for a second independence referendum.
She insisted that it would be against Scotland’s national interest to be forced out of the EU when its voters chose to stay.
In a June 23 referendum, Britain voted 52-48 percent to leave the EU. Scotland, however, voted 62-38 percent to remain in the bloc.
The decision sent shockwaves around the world and prompted David Cameron to announce his resignation as prime minister.
European leaders, who had urged the UK to remain in the EU, are now pressing it to set out a quick timetable for an exit from the bloc, to avoid a long period of “uncertainty.”
More than 2.5 million people have signed a petition calling for a second referendum.