The First Minister said it was “highly likely” a second independence poll would be held and set out a two-year time-table as she reacted to an EU referendum result that forced an emotional David Cameron to resign as Prime Minister.
Mr Cameron said the country required “fresh leadership” and added that he would quit by October after he lost his battle to keep the UK in the EU by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent.
The fallout from Thursday’s momentous poll had repercussions for Labour, with Jeremy Corbyn facing a no confidence motion tabled by two of his MPs, who believe their leader did not campaign hard enough to stay in the EU.
The motion was proposed in a letter to the parliamentary Labour Party from Dame Margaret Hodge and Anne Coffey. If it is accepted for debate it will be followed by a secret ballot of Labour MPs next week.
The Brexit vote had severe financial implications, with European stock markets sent into decline and sterling falling to its lowest level since 1985.
It also set alarm bells ringing across the EU with Polish president Andrzej Duda warning against a “domino effect” that could see other countries leaving.
Mr Cameron’s departure will trigger a Conservative Party leadership contest with Boris Johnson, the prominent Leave campaigner, expected to be the Downing Street front-runner.
Others expected to throw their hats into the ring are Mr Johnson’s fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove and the Home Secretary Theresa May, who favoured Remain but kept a low-profile during the campaign.
Whoever becomes Conservative leader will be charged with leading the UK government in the prolonged negotiations that will be required to cut and untangle the UK’s ties with the EU.
Standing outside Downing Street with his wife Samantha, Mr Cameron’s voice cracked as he announced he would step aside to enable someone else to make the break with Brussels.
“The British people have made a very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction,” Mr Cameron said.
“I will do everything I can as Prime Minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months, but I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”
It will be left to Mr Cameron’s successor to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the device that will be used to engineer the UK’s exit from the EU.
At a press conference in Bute House, Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government should be given the power to hold a second Scottish independence referendum before that process is completed in two years and three months’ time.
Ms Sturgeon reflected on a result that saw Scotland record a strong pro-EU vote of 62 per cent to 38 per cent, saying it was “democratically unacceptable” that Scotland would be taken out of the EU against its will.
“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,” Ms Sturgeon said. “It would not be right to rush to judgment ahead of discussions on how Scotland’s result will be responded to by the EU.
“However, when the Article 50 process is triggered in three months’ time the UK will be on a two-year path to the UK exit door. If parliament judges that a second referendum is the best or only way to protect our place in Europe, it must have the option to hold one within that timescale.”
Although the SNP no longer commands a majority at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon would be able to call on the support of the six Green MSPs to push referendum legislation through parliament.