NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of putting her party’s cause ahead of the national interest, with Unionist parties reacting furiously to the prospect of another referendum.

Leading the charge, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson claimed the First Minister was “utterly irresponsible” and had ceased to act for the whole of Scotland.

She said: “Nicola Sturgeon promised the 2014 referendum would be 'once in a generation'.

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“She has ignored the majority in Scotland who do not want a referendum and has decided instead to double down on division and uncertainty.

“The First Minister's proposal offers Scotland the worst of all worlds. Her timetable would force people to vote blind on the biggest political decision a country could face. This is utterly irresponsible and has been taken by the First Minister purely for partisan political reasons.”

Ms Sturgeon later took to Twitter to deny the "vote blind" accusation, insisting voters would be able to make an informed choice between Brexit and independence.

Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said Scotland was divided enough by Brexit without another referendum.

She said: “The last thing we need is even more uncertainty and division. Scotland would be a better place if the First Minister stopped dividing the country and started actually governing the country.”

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said his MSPs would vote with the SNP next week in Holyrood in favour of requesting referendum powers from Westminster.

He said: “Scotland's votes and our voice have been ignored by a Tory government at Westminster which we did not vote for and a feeble Labour opposition. The people of Scotland deserve a choice between Hard Brexit Britain and putting our own future in our own hands.”

Scottish LibDem leader Willie Rennie accused Ms Sturgeon of using Brexit as a pretext for a vote that would not reverse Brexit.

He said: “The First Minister refused to state that Scotland would be a full EU member under her plan.The SNP have airbrushed membership of the EU from their independence plans. That will let down all those who support the EU. ”

Pat Kane, co-convener of the Scottish Independence Convention, said: "The arguments against the Union are stronger than they’ve ever been. However I think the sense of realism about how much work an indy Scotland will be in the early years is also now generally understood.

“But this time, it’s the ultimate choice. If we don’t win this argument, faced with the extreme inequalities and harshnesses that Brexit will bring, then we can certainly put the constitutional question to rest in Scotland, for this generation at least."

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But there was also division within the wider Yes movement.

Former MSP Colin Fox, who was on the board of the Yes Scotland campaign in 2014, said the EU was “not the issue to win Indyref2”.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon is making Scotland’s EU membership the central and overarching issue in the entire debate. That is a risky strategy.

“There is a danger it sidelines the real economic and social challenges facing millions of Scots. It is not a forgone conclusion that Indyref will be won.”

Scottish Ukip MEP David Coburn said a referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019 would be “utterly preposterous”.

He said: “The UK will still be in negotiations with the EU at this time – the SNP seem to wish to cause maximum disruption, uncertainty and overall mayhem”.

Business leaders complained another independence referendum would add to the uncertainty already being caused by Brexit.

However there was no repeat of the outright hostility towards the independence cause seen in 2014, when the CBI briefly registered as a No campaigner.

Typical of the muted responses, Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, urged the First Minister to continue engaging with the political process of Brexit.

She said: “Scotland has been through two referendums and two major elections over the past three years, and there is no doubt that this period of continual uncertainty has had a material impact upon businesses in Scotland. A further referendum on Scotland’s independence would be no different, and the more that can be done to mitigate the duration of this uncertainty for business, the better."

David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors in Scotland, said: “Not many in the Scottish business community wanted Brexit, and equally, few want a renewed Independence Referendum.

“However, if the political will is to move forward with another vote, business will react appropriately and continue to face up to the challenges that such political activity presents."

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Rob Aberdein, chair of the pro-independence Business for Scotland group, said a hard Brexit would be “extremely damaging” for Scottish exports, investment and jobs.

He said: “This will not be a rerun of the 2014 referendum. Brexit and the UK Government's refusal to respect the EU referendum result in Scotland means that the UK that Scottish voters narrowly voted to remain part of in 2014 no longer exists."