Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP) speaks at a press conference in Stirling on September 2, 2016. (AFP photo)
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the time has come for the country to launch a “new conversation” on independence in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Sturgeon made the remarks in a speech in the central Scottish city of Stirling on Friday, saying she would trigger the "biggest ever political listening exercise" to convince voters a second referendum was needed.
“We want to understand in detail how people feel now about Europe, Brexit and independence. We want to know the concerns that people have and the questions they want answered. We want to build, if we can, a consensus on the way ahead,” Sturgeon said.
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.
"I suspect support for independence will be even higher if it becomes clear it is the best or only way to protect our interests," she noted.
"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 European Union (EU), Sturgeon warned that a second independence referendum was "highly likely" and she has tasked the Scottish government with presenting legislation to allow for another ballot.
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 its 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.
The online petition generated so much traffic that Parliament's website temporarily crashed.
In Northern Ireland, where 56 percent of voters opted to remain in the EU, there is speculation about the prospect of a vote to unite with the neighboring EU member, the Republic of Ireland.