London: Britain`s vote to leave the European Union instantly put the question of Scottish independence back into play on Friday, with Scotland having voted heavily for the UK to remain in the bloc.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the result put an independence referendum "on the table", adding that it was "highly likely" within two years.
She had made her intentions clear throughout the referendum campaign: if Scotland was pulled out of the EU against its will, that would be grounds for a second referendum on seceding from the United Kingdom.
The UK as a whole voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU.
However, Scotland voted strongly for Britain to remain -- by 62 percent to 38 percent, with a majority in all 32 of its local authority areas.
Wales and England -- except London -- voted for Britain to leave the EU, while Northern Ireland voted for it to stay in.
Sturgeon said her devolved government would now draw up legislation to allow a second Scottish independence referendum.
Citing a clause in her Scottish National Party manifesto, she said there had now been a "significant and material change in the circumstances in which Scotland voted against independence" in 2014, when 55 percent of Scots voted to stay in the UK.On the first train Friday between the main Scottish cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, commuters came to terms with the result.
"It`s a bad day. It`s a big shock. We voted for Remain but we`re being pushed out of the EU," said Bethany Swanson, 18, a student nurse at Edinburgh Napier University.
A disappointed Tom, 59, from Glasgow, said if there was a new referendum on Scotland leaving the UK "and there`s a No, it will kill the opportunity to go for independence. You can`t be able to call for a third referendum."
Hugh Brown, 64, a project manager, saw the result as "a good thing. I see it as a benefit for Scotland", because if London wants to keep Scotland in the UK, "they`ll have to give us more power".Sturgeon said she wanted to give effect to how Scotland voted -- namely "to secure our continuing place in the EU, and in the single market in particular".
That could give the British government scope for avoiding a second Scottish independence referendum.
While Britain has voted to leave the EU, it may retain continued access to the European free trade zone.
Pro-EU London Mayor Sadiq Khan alluded to this option, as he mentioned those areas that voted "Remain".
"Although we will be outside the EU, it is crucial that we remain part of the single market," he said.
It should be "the cornerstone of the negotiations with the EU" and it was "crucial" that London, Scotland and Northern Ireland had "a voice" in those discussions, Khan said.
Despite Sturgeon`s declared zeal for another referendum, Professor Michael Keating, the chair in Scottish politics at Aberdeen University, said the SNP would play it canny.
"They won`t stage it until they know they are going to win it," he told AFP.
And the latest polling evidence suggests breaking with Brussels would not make Scots any more likely to want secession from Britain.
A TNS survey of 1,008 Scottish voters between May 4 and 22 found that 56 percent of Scots would vote to stay in the UK post-Brexit, excluding "don`t know" voters.
The pro-EU Ruth Davidson, leader of the resurgent Scottish Conservatives, said: "The 1.6 million votes cast in this referendum in favour of `Remain` do not wipe away the two million votes that we cast less than two years ago."The vote also raises questions about the future for Northern Ireland, which shares the UK`s only land border, with the Irish Republic.
Northern Ireland voted 55.8 percent in favour of staying in the EU.
The UK and Ireland share a Common Travel Area of minimal or non-existent border controls dating back to Irish independence from Britain in the 1920s.
But "Remain" campaigners raised the prospect of a post-Brexit EU frontier being erected on the Irish border -- something that would not be relished on either side.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny tried to soothe concerns.
"The Irish government will do our utmost in upcoming discussions to maintain the Common Travel Area and minimise any possible disruptions to the flow of people, goods and services between these islands," he said.
Sinn Fein, which wants a united Ireland, said it now wanted a referendum in Northern Ireland on joining the republic.
The province was being dragged out of the EU against its will, said its deputy first minister Martin McGuinness, the Sinn Fein politician urging London to allow Northern Irish people "to have their say on their own future".
Some politicians in the pro-British community said they would welcome such a poll because they feel they would comprehensively win it, burying the issue for decades to come.