A NEW independence referendum would risk severing ties with a market that is four times more important to Scottish businesses than Europe, the leader of the Scottish Tories has warned.

Ruth Davidson, citing figures that show Scottish exports to the rest of the UK are worth £48.5 billion compared to £11.6 billion to Europe, challenged Nicola Sturgeon not to jeopardise "our own single market" by seeking to "rip Scotland out of Britain".

The Edinburgh MSP, in a final showdown at First Minister's Questions before Holyrood broke up for the summer recess, said the SNP leader should work with the UK Government over Brexit negotiations rather than "moving straight towards another independence referendum."

Ms Sturgeon, who has said a repeat of the 2014 independence referendum is "highly likely" after more than 60 per cent in Scotland opted to remain in the EU but the Leave side claimed victory UK-wide, hit back by claiming Ms Davidson's party had "recklessly brought this country to the brink of disaster" after calling last week's vote.

In angry exchanges, which also saw Ms Davidson face furious attacks from Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, the First Minister said she would not "meekly throw in the towel" as she fights to keep Scotland in the EU, in line with the wishes of the public.

Ms Sturgeon said: "I am not prepared as First Minister simply to ignore how people in Scotland voted last week. I'm not prepared to shrug my shoulders and simply accept that a Tory government that we didn't even vote for here in Scotland can drag us out of the European Union against our will, and I think a majority of people here in Scotland agree with that position."

She also blasted Prime Minister David Cameron and other UK Government ministers, saying it was "unforgivable" that they did "no planning" for the prospect of a vote to leave the EU.

Questions over the uncertainty facing Scotland as a result of the Brexit vote came the day after Ms Sturgeon travelled to Brussels for talks with senior EU figures.

In the next step of the charm offensive, Ms Sturgeon has invited diplomats to her official Bute House residence for a summit on Tuesday to discuss the impact of Brexit on Scotland.

She will also meet on the same day with the so-called "big six" business organisations - the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the Institute of Directors (IoD), Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Scottish Council for Development and Industry (SCDI), Scottish Financial Enterprise (SFE) and Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC).

The First Minister, who has instructed civil servants to begin drafting the legislation that could pave the way for a second independence referendum, claimed the option of breaking away from the UK was not her "starting point" in discussions over keeping Scotland in the EU.

However, hours later, the SNP launched a survey aimed at canvassing opinion on independence. An email, sent out in the name of party chief executive and Ms Sturgeon's husband, Peter Murrell, invited those on an SNP mailing list to submit their views on how they voted in a previous elections and referendums.

The 14-question poll then asks how respondents would vote in another independence referendum and for information on the issues that would influence them in coming to their decision.

Willie Rennie, the LibDem leader, asked Ms Sturgeon whether, in light of the impact on the economy caused by the UK's decision to quit the UK, she would reconsider using tax raising powers to protect the education system.

The First Minister appeared not to rule out the option, saying Brexit will "undoubtedly have an impact on our timescale for budgets and spending reviews" and that nothing "is on or off the table right now".

However, her spokesman later insisted that the Scottish Government remained "unequivocally committed" to the manifesto the SNP was elected on in May, which pledged to "freeze the basic rate of income tax" and "not implement the tax cut for higher-rate earners proposed by the Tories".