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Scotland's Sturgeon to seek second independence referendum

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has unveiled plans for a second referendum on Scottish independence, saying Scotland should be able to make this choice "before the UK leaves the EU." Scots had voted to stay.

Opening the Scottish National Party conference in Glasgow, Nicola Sturgeon said she would take the first step towards a second independence referendum for Scotland next week. 

"I can confirm that the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week," Sturgeon told delegates. She argued that in the event of a "hard Brexit" - particularly the UK leaving the EU without retaining access to the single market - then Scotland "will have the right to decide, afresh, if it wants to take a different path." 

Sturgeon even quoted the British Conservative Party's election manifesto for 2015, which had stated: "We say yes to the single market." 

Belgien Nicola Sturgeon in Brüssel (Reuters/E. Vidal)

Sturgeon was in Brussels to meet EU leaders within a week of the referendum result

Despite being careful not to set a desired date for the vote, at one point saying "whenever that might be," Sturgeon did say the decision should fall prior to the UK leaving the EU. That timeline remains very muddy, but as it stands, British Prime Minister Theresa May intends to trigger an exit process - slated to last two years - early in 2017.

'A case we will win'

In 2014, 55 percent of Scottish residents voted to stay a part of the United Kingdom; back then, independence supporters were warned that leaving London would mean an EU exit. 

Sturgeon said that she believed the UK's even narrower 52 percent vote to leave the EU - when more than 60 percent of Scots voted to stay - had changed the landscape. 

In the event of a hard Brexit, Sturgeon said that the choice at a second independence referendum would pit "an inward-looking, insular, Brexit Britain, governed by a right-wing Tory party obsessed with borders and blue passports at the expense of economic strength and stability" against "a progressive, outward-looking, internationalist Scotland, able to chart our own course and build our own security and prosperity." 

"That is a case we will win," Sturgeon told the audience in Glasgow, the city she represents in the Scottish parliament and - as the nationalist herself noted - a city that had voted to split with the UK the first time around in 2014. 

Collision course with May

The Conservatives' party conference last week raised the specter of a clean break with the EU and its single market. There, PM Theresa May made her clearest comments yet on what sort of a Brexit she envisaged, saying she would not accept free movement of people as a condition for continued single market membership. 

At least as it stands, Brussels' stance is that free trade and movement are inextricably linked.

Nicola Sturgeon und Theresa May Treffen in Schottland (picture-alliance/dpa)

May and Sturgeon have held talks since the referendum

The markets have also responded to May's comments, with the pound crashing on Wednesday to its lowest level ever against the US dollar. Against the euro, itself not as strong as the dollar in recent months and years, the pound is falling fast, but not to record lows. A potential absence of breakfast spread Marmite in supermarket chain Tesco - as British-Dutch manufacturer Unilever seeks a higher shelf price to reflect the weakness of the pound - served as an early warning of the crash's effects for consumers.

South of the border on Thursday, a legal challenge to Theresa May's right to start negotiations on leaving the EU without first winning parliamentary approval opened in the country's High Court. A verdict was expected by Monday. 

May and Sturgeon have held talks since the referendum, and the head of the Scottish government addressed the Conservative directly during the key part of her speech mooting a second referendum. 

"In 2014, you told us Scotland was an equal partner in the UK. Well, the moment has come to prove it. If you value the UK - as you say you do - it's up to you to prove it can work for Scotland," Sturgeon said, nominally addressing May. "The ball is in your court. But hear this - if you think for one single second that I'm not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland's interests, then think again." 

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