Nicola Sturgeon has declared she is preparing the groundwork needed to announce a second Scottish referendum as she seeks to "take all possible steps" to ensure the country remained in the EU following UK's Brexit vote.

Scotland's first minister said it was "highly likely" that a second independence referendum in Scotland will take place just two years after it voted to remain part of the UK by 55% to 45%.

However, following the EU referendum results, Sturgeon issued a reminder that the SNP manifesto promised Scotland the chance of a second referendum if there was a "significant and material change of circumstances", such as Britain leaving the EU.

Britain voted to leave the 28-nation bloc by 51.9% to 48.1% across all four countries and Gibraltar, but in Scotland the Remain vote scored a substantial victory, voting in favour of continued EU membership by 62% to 38%.

Describing the result as "democratically unacceptable" Sturgeon confirmed a referendum "is now on the table" and is hoping a date will be confirmed by October 2018 if in three months' time the UK embarks on a "two-year path to the exit door" after triggering Article 50 needed to begin negations to leave the EU.

Sturgeon said: "Unfortunately yesterday's [23 June] result in Scotland was not echoed across the UK. It remains my passionate belief that it is better for all parts of the UK to remain in the EU.

"The manifesto that the SNP was elected on last month said this: 'The Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum on if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014 such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will'.

"Scotland does now face that prospect. It is a significant and material change in circumstances and it is therefore a statement of the obvious that the option of a second referendum must be on the table and it is on the table."

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon said a second referendum in Scotland is "highly likely" following UK's Brexit Reuters

She added: "I have made it clear to the prime minister this morning that the Scottish government must be fully and directly involved in any and all decisions about the next steps that the UK government intends to take.

"We will also be seeking direct discussions with the EU institutions and its member states including the earliest possible meeting with the President of the European Commission. I will also be communicating over the weekend with each EU member state to make clear that Scotland has voted to stay in the EU and I intend to discuss all options for doing so.

"I have also spoken this morning with [London] mayor Sadiq Khan and he is clear that he shares this objective for London, so there is clear common cause between us."

Alex Salmond, the leader of the SNP during Scotland's 2014 independence referendum, also said prior to the EU result he was "quite certain" a Brexit vote would lead to a second referendum. Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness also said the whole of Ireland should be given the opportunity to vote on unification with Ireland after the country voted in favour of remain with a margin of 56% to 44%.

Commenting previously on the result of the EU referendum, Sturgeon said: "Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain in the EU, and I welcome that endorsement of our European status.

"And while the overall result remains to be declared, the vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union. Scotland has contributed significantly to the Remain vote across the UK. That reflects the positive campaign the SNP fought, which highlighted the gains and benefits of our EU membership, and people across Scotland have responded to that positive message."