NICOLA Sturgeon today takes a dramatic step towards a second independence referendum, dismissing “oil, national wealth and balance sheets” as less important than self-governance for Scotland.

Writing exclusively in the Sunday Herald, in an article marking the second anniversary of the vote of 2014, the First Minister also says that self-governance "transcends the issue of Brexit".

Despite the collapse in the oil price and the Scottish Government’s recent GERS figures showing a £15bn deficit in 2015-16, Sturgeon writes: “Two years on from the historic vote of 2014, the fundamental case for Scotland’s independence remains as it was.

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"The case for full self-government ultimately transcends the issues of Brexit, of oil, of national wealth and balance sheets and of passing political fads and trends.”

Savaging Westminster for its “shocking” and shambolic response to Brexit, Sturgeon said the prospect of Scots being dragged out the EU by voters in England is “probably the most striking and significant instance ever” of the democratic deficit north of the border. “Such a lack of control over own future should be of concern to everyone,” she writes.

HeraldScotland: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks launching a fresh bid to convince Scots to back independence earlier this month

Nicola Sturgeon issued the National Survey in a bid to find out what Scotland thinks after Britain decided to vote to leave the EU.

As it emerged yesterday that Theresa May hopes to trigger the Article 50 withdrawal process in January or February, Sturgeon challenged Unionists to show how the UK can work for Scotland in light of Brexit, and how Scotland can “retain its place in Europe” given the nation's 62-38 vote for Remain.

“It is the Tories who are actually making the case for independence,” she said. Sturgeon, who has said Brexit makes a referendum “highly likely” and recently announced draft legislation for a new vote, also rejected pessimism about the Yes position in the polls.

Although some commentators had trumpeted the lack of a ‘Brexit bounce’, it was early days and “baseline support for independence - now consistently polling in the high 40s and above - is far higher than when we began the 2014 referendum campaign,” she said.

An Ipsos Mori poll last week put support for Yes on 48 per cent.

However it also showed Sturgeon was less popular with Scots voters than Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson or the Prime Minister.

In spite of the growing drumbeat for a second referendum coming from the SNP, Westminster could block a legally watertight vote by refusing to devolve the required powers to Holyrood.

David Cameron only issued a Section 30 order enabling the 2014 referendum because he felt No was sure to win - if Yes was in the ascendant, May could refuse to grant one. Davidson, also writing in the Sunday Herald, today argues the SNP has “no mandate” for a new referendum.

HeraldScotland: Alex Salmond meets David Cameron in St Andrews House, Edinburgh

Alex Salmond and David Cameron signed the Edinburgh agreement to allow Holyrood to hold an independence referendum in 2014.

The fundamentalist tone of Sturgeon's comments jars with her reputation as a cautious, means-to-an-end Nationalist.

On the eve of the 2014 referendum, she told the Sunday Herald: “I don’t have and never have had a [view] we should be independent regardless of what it might mean for Scotland.

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“Existential Nationalists say, ‘We’re a country therefore we should be independent’, end of story. I’ve always been more the utilitarian kind of Nationalist. I believe in it for a purpose, because I think it equips us with the powers to build the kind of country I want Scotland to be.”

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: “Nicola Sturgeon is basically saying forget about the oil crash, forget about the disastrous GERS (government finance figures), just trust me and everything will be ok.

"People didn't trust the SNP's business case in 2014, and they certainly won't trust it now."?

HeraldScotland:

Willie Rennie has warned against holding another referendum on independence.

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie said: “It’s now crystal clear the First Minister’s whole drive and intention is for another divisive referendum no matter what the facts or economics say. Nobody should be in any doubt this is where she wants to take everyone."

Labour's only Scottish MP Ian Murray added: "Nicola Sturgeon appears to have learned all the wrong lessons from the Brexit referendum. The detail of the case for independence can't be dismissed. What we're talking about are people's lives, livelihoods and the money they have in their pocket."

Next month's SNP conference will debate whether to hold a second referendum if it is the only way for Scotland to be in the EU.

Alex Salmond said yesterday that he expected Indyref2 in the autumn of 2018. “The next test is coming. Of that I have little doubt,” he said.

Labour First Minister Henry McLeish urged caution, saying: “The clamour for an early referendum should be resisted. Delaying a vote until after 2020 would be a mature response to a breathtakingly chaotic Brexit.”

Scottish Secretary David Mundell urged the First Minister to stop “scaremongering” over Brexit, saying her warnings about an economic lost decade were “increasingly alarmist”.

He claimed Brexit made the case for the Union stronger, not weaker, and that Salmond was “obsessed with independence” and trying to bounce Sturgeon into a referendum.

HeraldScotland: Holyrood strengthened: "important milestone" as new powers come into force today, says David Mundell

David Mundell has said Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP should stop "scaremongering" over Brexit.

"Since he departed from the Scottish Parliament he has been persistently a thorn in Nicola Sturgeon's side. It is quite clear that his current remarks are an attempt to force her hand.

"I think it is absolutely contemptuous to the people of Scotland to try and force an independence referendum on them when it is so clear that they do not want one."

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But Mundell was put onto the backfoot by reports that Chancellor Philip Hammond had admitted the UK would have to quit the EU single market.

Campaigning in Perth against independence, Davidson said: “Two years ago, we settled this issue - we decided to remain within the UK. This anniversary should be the moment when we move on, and we will stand with all those people across the country who want to do just that.”

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said the oil price fall and Scotland’s growing deficit had made the economics of independence “weaker than ever”.

“Make no mistake: there will be no support for a second independence referendum from Scottish Labour - we will keep the government focused on the day job.”