By Elisabeth O’Leary
EDINBURGH (Reuters) – Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she will meet European Parliament leaders in Brussels on Wednesday to seek a way for Scotland to remain in the European Union.
Scotland voted decisively to stay in the EU in last week’s referendum, putting it at odds with the United Kingdom as a whole, which voted in favor of Brexit.
Sturgeon has called the prospect of Scotland being taken out of the EU “democratically unacceptable” and said she would take all necessary steps to prevent it, including revisiting the issue of independence from the United Kingdom.
In an initial visit to Brussels on Wednesday she would set out Scotland’s position to the speaker of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, and to representatives of the major groups of European lawmakers, she said.
However Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council which defines the EU’s overall political direction and priorities, will not be meeting Sturgeon, his spokesman said, because he did not think it was an appropriate time.
Sturgeon said she also intended to discuss the Scottish issue directly with the European Commission, the EU’s executive body.
“Our early priority has been to ensure that there is a widespread awareness across Europe of Scotland’s different choice in the referendum and of our aspiration to stay in the EU,” she told the Scottish parliament.
She said she had already discussed the fallout from the Brexit vote with the president and prime minister of Ireland, and that the Scottish government was directly in touch with the governments of other EU member states.
Earlier a European lawmaker for Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) called on European Union colleagues to respect that the Scottish vote had diverged from the British one.
“Scotland did not let you down. Please, I beg you, ‘chers collegues,’ do not let Scotland down now,” said Alyn Smith, winning a standing ovation from his counterparts.
Sturgeon has said the results of the EU referendum showed a split between Scotland and the rest of the UK and that a second independence referendum was now “highly likely”.
Scots rejected independence by 55 to 45 percent in a 2014 referendum in which EU membership was presented as one of the key advantages of remaining part of the UK.
Sturgeon argues that the Brexit vote has changed the context so profoundly that Scots should be able to vote again on the issue, should independence turn out to be the best way for Scotland to remain an EU member.
Polls show some indication that support for independence has risen since the Brexit vote, though there are also doubts on how long such support may be sustained.
The Scottish arm of Britain’s ruling Conservative Party, which is the main opposition to the SNP in the Scottish parliament, attacked Sturgeon for linking the EU issue to the possibility of a second independence referendum.
“You do not dampen the shockwaves caused by one referendum by lighting the fuse for another,” Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson told the parliament in Edinburgh.
“(The Brexit vote) does not break the continuing logic of our sharing power with the UK, not splitting from it.”
(Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in London, Philip Blenkinsop and Alastair Macdonald in Brussels; writing by Estelle Shirbon and Elisabeth O’Leary; editing by Stephen Addison)