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Nicola Sturgeon Holds Brussels Talks
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she is leaving Brussels "in good heart and optimistic'' after receiving a "sympathetic response'' from EU leaders when discussing the implications of Brexit on the country.
Ms Sturgeon has expressed concern about Scotland being taken out of the EU against the will of the Scottish people following last week's referendum.
While 51.9% of people across the UK voted to leave the EU, the majority of people in Scotland voted to stay part of the 28-member bloc, with 62% in favour.
She said: "If there is a way for Scotland to stay, I am determined to try and find that way.
"I've found enormous interest in the referendum result, as you would expect, and I've also had a sympathetic response to the position Scotland now finds itself in, facing the prospect of being taken out of the European Union against our will, a position not of our making and not one we wanted.''
She held talks with European Parliament president Martin Schulz and the leaders of several of the groups in the European Parliament before going on to meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who she said had given her a "very sympathetic response''.
Prior to the talks, Mr Juncker said Scotland had "won a right to be heard'' in Brussels.
Ms Sturgeon said it was "early in the process'' but she was confident Scotland's voice was being heard.
She said: "I don't think it comes as a surprise to anyone to hear me say that I want Scotland to be an independent country.
"But I have been very clear that as we face up to this situation, one not of our making, that we do not come at it from the starting point of independence, we come at it from the starting point of protecting Scotland's interests.
"If we get to a point where it seems to be the case that the only way of protecting Scotland's relationship with Europe is by looking at the option of becoming an independent country, then that's a choice I think the Scottish people have the right to make - but I'm not saying we are at that point yet.''
But other European leaders have poured cold water on the idea of Scotland joining the EU after the UK voted for Brexit.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy told reporters at the European Council summit in the Belgian capital: "If the United Kingdom leaves, so does Scotland.
"Scotland has no competences to negotiate with the EU. The Spanish Government rejects any negotiation with anyone other than the United Kingdom.''
That sentiment was echoed by the French president Francois Hollande, who said: "The negotiations will be conducted with the United Kingdom, not with a part of the United Kingdom.''
Nicola Sturgeon said the UK Government is planning to "impose new restrictions on the Scottish Parliament".
Previous winners of the award include Tim Vine, Stewart Francis and Zoe Lyons.
The Labour leader will be in Scotland from Wednesday, where he is targeting up to 18 SNP seats.
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