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Sturgeon pledges to 'protect' Scottish EU interests

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media captionFirst Minister Nicola Sturgeon to "protect Scotland's relationship with the European Union and our place in the single market"

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she will seek "immediate discussions" with Brussels to "protect Scotland's place in the EU" after UK's vote to leave.

She was speaking after a meeting of the Scottish cabinet at her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh.

Thursday's referendum saw Scotland, London and Northern Ireland vote in favour of Remain - while England and Wales backed Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon has said a new independence referendum is "highly likely".

The cabinet formally agreed to begin work to legislate for a second independence vote, so that the option is "deliverable", while an expert advisory group is to be set up to study what else could be done.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has voiced opposition to a second referendum, saying she wants "stability prioritised".

And while Labour's Kezia Dugdale said her party would "consider all options", she underlined her support for "the union of nations across the United Kingdom".

Ms Sturgeon said: "Most of our discussions this morning centred on what we can do in the here and now and in the negotiations that lie ahead to protect Scotland's relationship with the European Union and our place in the single market.

"Cabinet agreed that we will seek to enter into immediate discussions with the EU institutions and other EU member states to explore all possible options to protect Scotland's place in the EU."

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image captionIt was agreed at the cabinet meeting to begin work to legislate for a second independence vote

Scottish voters backed the UK staying in the EU by 62% to 38%, contrary to the UK-wide result of 52% choosing Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon said her cabinet had expressed "pride" at the "emphatic vote" from across Scotland to remain, saying a majority of Scots clearly felt "deep disappointment" at the overall result.

She said: "We are determined to act decisively, but in a way that builds unity across Scotland about the way forward.

"We are determined to draw on as much support and advice from across Scotland as possible."

'Vacuum of leadership'

The result has caused upheaval at Westminster, with Prime Minister David Cameron announcing he is to step down.

He is facing a vote of no confidence over what some of his MPs called his "lacklustre" campaigning for Remain in the EU referendum.

Amid this, Ms Sturgeon insisted that her government, which also campaigned for Remain, "will not be taking our eye off the day to day business".

She said: "As Westminster is engulfed in political turmoil and as a vacuum of leadership develops, I want to make it clear that Scotland is led by a stable and effective government.

"We are focused on making sure that Scotland's interests are protected, but we are also determined to continue our work to further improve our schools, our hospitals and our economy."

image captionA majority of voters in every council area in Scotland backed Remain, as shown in centre map

The first minister also stressed that citizens of other EU countries were still welcome in Scotland, and has invited the consuls general of all EU member states to a summit at Bute House to discuss "how clearly we value the contribution they make".

She said: "Scotland is, and will continue to be, an attractive and stable place to do business.

"One particular group we are anxious to reassure is the community of EU citizens living here in Scotland. People from other EU countries who have done us the honour of choosing to make Scotland their home are welcome here.

"I want to make sure that is a message we get across strongly in the weeks and months ahead."

'Needless risk'

Ms Davidson, while underlining her opposition to a second referendum, welcomed Ms Sturgeon's plans for an expert panel of advisors.

She said: "The advisory group established by the first minister should encompass the widest possible support.

"The Scottish Conservatives want to be constructive and would like to propose suitably qualified personnel to engage with the group."

Scottish Labour leader Ms Dugdale meanwhile attacked the Tories for taking the "needless risk" of the EU referendum.

She said: "It is clear that, rather than being the party who stands up for the United Kingdom, all the Conservatives have done since the 2014 referendum is put the UK in danger.

"Whether it was English Votes for English Laws, a divisive general election campaign which set Scotland against England, a divisive Scottish election campaign which told Scots all that mattered was whether you were a unionist or a nationalist, and now a Brexit vote which raises the possibility of a second referendum, the Tories have put the future of the UK in danger at every turn."

The Scottish Liberal Democrats are to meet on Sunday to discuss their response to the vote, although leader Willie Rennie has backed Ms Sturgeon in her talks with EU leaders.

image captionFollowing the cabinet meeting, the first minister has been attending Armed Forces Day events in Glasgow

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