SCOTLAND moved a step closer to indyref2, with Nicola Sturgeon telling the SNP party conference in Glasgow today that the Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week.

The First Minister told SNP members in Glasgow’s SECC that the referendum could happen before the UK leaves the EU, which could see Scots being asked to vote yes or no before March 2019.

Opening the annual meeting of the party faithful, Sturgeon gave Theresa May an ultimatum - respect Scotland’s decision to stay in the EU, ditch hard Brexit and guarantee new powers over immigration and foreign affairs for Holyrood, or face seeing the end of the union.

“If you value the UK, as you say you do, it’s up to you to prove it can work Scotland. The ball is in your court”

Sturgeon accused the Tories of ripping up the Smith Agreement, by refusing to give Holyrood a vote on the Brexit bill.

“After the No vote in 2014 we were told the Sewel Convention - which means the UK Parliament can’t make law in devolved areas without the consent of the Scottish Parliament - would be sacrosanct,” Sturgeon said.

“Now the Tories are reneging” she added.

She said the Scottish Government were putting forward a package of proposals for the UK’s Brexit negotiation. Sturgeon demanded Holyrood get more powers over immigration and “powers to strike international deals” and a guarantee that all the powers in Holyrood’s responsibility “that currently lie with the EU”.

To cheers and a standing ovation, the SNP leader told her members that the “Independence Referendum Bill will be published for consultation next week”.

“I am determined that Scotland will have the ability to reconsider the question of independence - and to do so before the UK leaves the EU - if that is necessary to protect our country’s interests," she said.

Scottish Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael attacked the FM’s speech, saying: “The SNP have now made it crystal clear that a second independence referendum is their top priority. Their delegates went wild with a standing ovation at the first whiff of a referendum on independence in Nicola Sturgeon’s speech.

“The Scottish Government are now rushing forward with the publication of a Bill when they should be tackling the huge challenges in health, in education and policing.

“The First Minister must take independence off the table.”