On Friday morning I like many people in Scotland found myself watching the results of the EU referendum in disbelief as voters across the rest of the UK voted to leave the European Union.
And while I am proud that Scotland opted to remain in the EU, to remain open and inclusive, to protect our access to a market of 500 million people and our ability to co-operate internationally on major issues like climate change, tackling the refugee crisis, or increasing living standards, I am also deeply saddened by the decision the rest of the UK has taken.
As First Minister my job now is to protect Scotland’s interests.
Already my cabinet is in touch with the business community to provide reassurance and stability, and I want to make clear to all EU citizens living in Scotland, that you are welcome here and that I consider Scotland to be your home.
Given the absence of leadership across the UK as both Labour and the Tories obsess over their internal power struggles, I am determined that in Scotland we will have strong and stable leadership and a calm and considered approach to our future.
To do that I will explore all options to preserve Scotland’s relationship with the European Union and our access to the single market.
We will enter into discussions with other EU countries, the UK, the EU institutions and other devolved administrations about the way forward and we will be open and honest about the challenges we face and about the questions that the UK Government, the EU and ourselves will need to answer. I will appoint a panel of advisers with experience in the EU, in finance, in the law and in key areas of the economy to support us in those discussions, and I will seek the support of other parties to take Scotland forward.
The starting point for those discussions is not independence, it is protecting our position in the European Union, that is my priority. However if it becomes clear that independence is the best way to do that then that option will be on the table and it will be a decision for the people of this country to take.
At this early stage we do not know how those negotiations will play out, but what is clear is we are in uncharted territory so my promise to all of you is that as we navigate a way forward I will work tirelessly to deliver the result Scotland voted for, to protect Scotland from the economic and social harm that will come with leaving the EU.