LONDON (Reuters) - Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon publishes a draft bill for a second independence referendum on Thursday as she ramps up the pressure on the British government to make sure Scotland's voice is heard in Brexit talks.
Scots voted by a large margin to remain in the European Union in June this year but Britain as a whole voted to leave.
Sturgeon, the fervently pro-EU leader of the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) argues that the prospect of Scotland being taken out of Europe against its will validates a possible re-run of the 2014 independence referendum, in which 55 percent of voters opted to remain in the United Kingdom.
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Although she has said she regards a second referendum as "highly likely", Thursday's bill is merely for formal consultation and sets no date for another vote.
"The consultation beginning today will ensure that a referendum bill, if it is the chosen route, will – like the 2014 referendum – meet the gold standard of democracy and fairness,” Sturgeon said in a statement.
"This government was elected on a specific manifesto pledge that the Scottish Parliament should be able to consider an independence referendum if there was a material change in circumstances, such as Scotland being taken out of the European Union against its will," she added.
"The country now faces exactly that prospect, including the likelihood of it being a hard Brexit with all the additional damage that will do to Scotland's economy and jobs, which is why this bill is being published for consultation."
Sturgeon said earlier this month she wanted a bill in place to give her the possibility of calling another independence referendum before Britain formally leaves the EU - now expected by the end of March 2019.
Polls show Scots would probably still reject secession from the 300-year-old union if a vote were held now and any binding second independence referendum would probably have to be agreed by the British government in London, which has said it considers the matter was settled in 2014.
(Reporting by Stephen Addison)