NICOLA Sturgeon has vowed that she will call a second independence referendum if the Tory UK Government delivers a hard Brexit and Scotland is dragged out of the single market against its will.

Sturgeon said the Scottish Government would unveil proposals in the coming weeks for new powers to help Scotland retain free movement of goods and services in the European Union, even if the rest of the UK leaves.

In a stark warning to Theresa May, Sturgeon declared that she would call a fresh independence referendum if Downing Street sought to block the Scottish Government's plan.

The move represents a significant shift in the SNP's previous position from one which said Scots would have a right to a new referendum, to one that now states a vote on independence will definitely be held if the Tory government ignores the position of the Scottish government over Europe.

Sturgeon said Tory ministers should be in no doubt that the SNP Government would act to ensure that "Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future" if the country stood to lose its place in the single market.

The First Minister's declaration comes ahead of the publication of a draft referendum bill by the Scottish Government this week.

Sturgeon also told SNP members yesterday that her government will set out specific proposals to protect jobs and businesses to keep Scotland in the single market, a plan that would fall short of Scottish independence.

A raft of measures are expected to be set out in the next few weeks, with a blueprint for keeping Scotland in the Single Market after the UK formally leaves the EU.

However, in a direct challenge, to the Prime Minister, Sturgeon said: "Make no mistake, it is the opponents of independence, those on the right of the Tory party, intent on a hard Brexit, who have caused the insecurity and uncertainty.

"So it falls to us, the advocates of independence, to offer solutions to the problems they have created. We will work with others across the political divide to try to save the UK as a whole from the fate of a hard Brexit.

"We will propose new powers to help keep Scotland in the single market even if the UK leaves. But if the Tory government rejects these efforts - if it insists on taking Scotland down a path that hurts our economy, costs jobs, lowers our living standards and damages our reputation as an open, welcoming, diverse country - then be in no doubt. Scotland must have the ability to choose a better future. And I will make sure that Scotland gets that chance."

The SNP leader said that a hard Brexit would amount to the UK Government breaking the promises it made during the 2014 independence referendum, and that such a departure from the EU would lead to another vote on independence.

She said: "And let us be clear about this too. If that moment does arise, it will not be because the 2014 result hasn't been respected. It will be because the promises made to Scotland in 2014 have been broken. Above all, it will be because our country decides, together, that being independent is the best way to build a better, stronger, fairer future."

Sturgeon also used her speech to state that she was more confident than ever during her 30 years of SNP membership that Scotland was now on the road to independence.

The First Minister went onto say that supporters of independence would now have to take responsibility for leading the campaign to keep Scotland in the EU and single market.

She said: "This year marks 30 years since I first joined this party of ours. In all those 30 years, I have never doubted that Scotland will one day become an independent country. And I believe it today more strongly than I ever have before."

Sturgeon went on to talk about what she said was the "common ground" between Yes and No voters who were dismayed at Scotland being outvoted by the UK as a whole in the EU referendum in June.

She said: "I know how upset I was on the morning of June 24 as I came to terms with the result of the EU referendum. I felt as if part of my identity was being taken away.

"And I don't mind admitting that it gave me a new insight into how those who voted No might have felt if 2014 had gone the other way.

"Likewise, there are many No voters now looking at the Brexit vote with real dismay and wondering if independence might be the best option for Scotland after all.

"Let's build on that common ground. Let's decide that whatever decisions we face in the years ahead, we will take them together - respecting each other every step of the way. And let us in the SNP lead by example."

Meanwhile, with the conference address taking place five months after the SNP won its third consecutive term in power at Holyrood, Sturgeon spent much of it on domestic issues.

With the SNP having pledged to almost double the amount of free childcare eligible youngsters receive to 1,140 hours a year by 2020, she said there would be a national consultation with parents on "how to do things differently" which would make choice and flexibility key priorities.

Sturgeon told the audience: "We will propose that parents can choose a nursery or childminder that best suits their needs and - as long as the provider meets agreed standards - ask the local authority to fund it."

However, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson, hitting back, said the First Minister's speech was preoccupied with placating independence supporters.

Davidson said: ?"In truth, that's all this conference was about - keeping the activists happy with threats of a second independence referendum.

"It's clear independence is Nicola Sturgeon's sole priority and her continued brinkmanship over another referendum is hampering Scotland's progress in areas such as the economy, health and education."