Edinburgh (AFP) - Scotland's government published a draft independence referendum bill on Thursday as a fallback plan if it is not able to keep strong ties with the EU and win more powers from London as part of Brexit talks.
The bill would give non-British EU citizens living in Scotland, who were not allowed to take part in the EU referendum, the right to vote on independence.
Scotland voted by 55 percent to stay part of Britain in 2014, but then voted by 62 percent to remain in the European Union in June, sparking a political crisis after Britain as whole voted to leave.
The bill is broadly the same as the original Scottish Independence Referendum Act 2013 which enabled a vote the following year.
Its opening paragraph states: "A referendum is to be held in Scotland on a question about the independence of Scotland. The question is --'Should Scotland be an independent country?'."
In her foreword to the consultation, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "The UK governmentâs recent statements on its approach to leaving the EU raise serious concerns for the Scottish Government.
"We face unacceptable risks to our democratic, economic and social interests and to the right of the Scottish Parliament to have its say," she said.
She said her government "remains willing to work with the UK Government to negotiate a future relationship with Europe... which works for the United Kingdom as a whole".
But she added: "If it becomes clear that it is only through independence that Scotlandâs interests can be protected, then the people of Scotland must have the ability to reconsider that question, and to do so before the UK leaves the EU."
Prime Minister Theresa May has said she plans to trigger the formal procedure for leaving the European Union by the end of March, opening up a two-year negotiating window.
The prospect of another referendum is already causing concern among North Sea oil investors.
A report by BMI Research, a subsidiary of global credit rating agency Fitch, said: "A second vote on Scotland sovereignty is the main downside risk to our North Sea production forecast, the chances of which will substantially increase if a 'hard Brexit' is realised."
It said a second independence campaign would "cast a great shadow of uncertainty over the regulatory framework governing the petroleum sector".
"Companies operating in the North Sea could potentially hold off making investments in that time period, waiting instead until Scotland's fate has been determined."