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LONDON (Reuters) - Scotland could suspend its drive to become independent if Britain avoids a "hard Brexit" in which it loses access to the European Union's single market, the head of its secessionist government said on Friday.
Nicola Sturgeon said she still wanted Scotland to remain a member of the EU, but was open to finding a Brexit deal that suited all parts of the United Kingdom.
While the UK voted narrowly in favour of leaving the EU in last June's referendum, Scottish voters wanted to stay by a margin of two to one.
Last month, the devolved Scottish government set out its thinking on Brexit, including Sturgeon's preferred option of an independent Scotland that remains in the EU.
"I've been willing, and am willing, to put aside my preferred option of independence in the EU to see if we can explore a consensus and compromise option," Sturgeon told BBC radio.
However, she added that any suspension of the drive towards independence would be temporary.
"I'm never going to stop arguing for independence," she said. "I think Scotland will become independent and I think that's the direction of travel."
British Prime Minister Theresa May intends to launch the two-year process of negotiation to leave the EU by the end of March and some members of her government have suggested this could include paying to maintain access to the single market.
But a former top UK official at European Commission warned on Friday that Britain will not be able to buy access to the single market following its exit from the EU, casting doubt on mooted government plans for Britain's future relationship with the bloc.
Reporting by Andy Bruce; editing by Stephen Addison