[GLASGOW] Separatist leader Nicola Sturgeon on Saturday said her belief that Scotland will become independent was stronger than ever as she confirmed preparations for a second referendum for leaving Britain.
The Scottish National Party (SNP) leader, first minister of the semi-autonomous Scottish government, has pledged to "explore all options" to prevent Scotland being taken out of the European Union (EU) against its will.
But with some of these options already being dismissed by the British government, Ms Sturgeon has said that another independence referendum is "highly likely".
In a speech on the final day of the SNP conference in Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon said: "I have never doubted that Scotland will one day become an independent country.
"And I believe it today more strongly than I ever have before.
"But I've always known that it will happen only when a majority of our fellow citizens believe that becoming independent is the best way to build a better future, together."
The SNP will present a bill for another referendum to the Scottish Parliament this week. It would be pursued if all other options to keep Scotland in the EU should fail.
British unionists warned Scots that remaining in the UK was the only way to protect Scotland's place in the EU, and Scotland voted against independence in 2014.
But Scotland now faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU along with the rest of the UK, despite voting by 62 per cent to remain.
Ms Sturgeon said: "We will propose new powers to help keep Scotland in the single market even if the UK leaves.
"But if the Tory government rejects these efforts, if it insists on taking Scotland down a path that hurts our economy, costs jobs, lowers our living standards and damages our reputation as an open, welcoming, diverse country, then be in no doubt.
"Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future, and I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance."
Ms Sturgeon acknowledged, however, that independence would "bring its own challenges".
One challenge Scotland faces is convincing EU member states which are wrestling with their own separatist movements to accept a unique Brexit solution for Scotland, or ultimately admit Scotland as a new member state if it votes for independence.
Corsican separatist Francois Alfonsi, president of a coalition of regional groups called the European Free Alliance (EFA), told a meeting on the sidelines of the conference that attitudes towards Scottish independence are shifting in Europe.
He said: "It is historic, this vote for Brexit, because it is creating conditions very new for the independence of Scotland. "EFA has to be unconditional supporters of the SNP, but there are other supporters now."
Scotland's External Affairs Minister Fiona Hyslop said: "The reaction to Scotland now is not the same as the reaction in 2014.
"One very senior European politician has said to us: 'We didn't understand why you wanted to be independent in 2014, but we understand now.'"