NICOLA Sturgeon will have “no choice” but to call a second independence referendum if the UK government rejects a bespoke Scottish deal on Europe, her Brexit minister has warned.

Michael Russell said the coming weeks were “crucial” for Theresa May, and she had to prove she would incorporate the SNP’s plan into her negotiating position on Brexit.

His comments add to the growing sense of inevitability about a second referendum since the Prime Minister insisted on a UK hard Brexit despite the vote in Scotland to Remain.

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The First Minister said on Monday she would “make my own judgments in my own time” on a second referendum, but Mr Russell’s comments suggest it could be automatic.

Ruth Davidson last night claimed Scotland could become a “focal point for global instability” and experience “fratricidal conflict”, if the First Minister called a referendum.

The Scottish Tory leader said the SNP was trying to bully the country into another poll, despite previously saying the public mood would dictate the timing.

Ms Sturgeon and Mrs May discussed the SNP plan for Scotland to stay in the EU single market after Brexit at the Joint Ministerial Committee on the EU (JMC) in Cardiff on Monday.

Ms Sturgeon’s plan would require the UK to sacrifice other demands in talks with the other 27 EU states, as well as the devolution of powers over immigration, work and international deals.

Mrs May has so far refused to accept any of the proposal, but has not finally ruled it out either.

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Updating MSPs on the JMC, Mr Russell said the meeting had discussed the “lack of progress in agreeing a common position on the triggering of Article 50” next month.

He said the UK Government “must” show how it would incorporate the devolved nations’ interests into its negotiating position, with a “major” transfer of powers to Holyrood.

He said: “The Scottish Government believes that should the UK Government persist with its plans for the hardest of Brexits, and remain unwilling to incorporate into its position the needs of the devolved administrations, then there will be no choice but to give the people of Scotland an opportunity to have their say on the matter. That is why the next few weeks will be crucial in terms of demonstrating the intentions of the UK Government.”

In a speech in Edinburgh later, Ms Davidson said the SNP appeared “to have decided to double-down on its attempt to push for a second referendum”.

She said: “Nicola Sturgeon says a referendum is something we all ‘must confront’. Having failed to persuade people of the necessity of another referendum, the SNP is now hoping to soften us up by telling us we’ll just have to accept it. It is the language of the bully pulpit.”

She went on: “People do not want Brexit to be used to start yet another fratricidal conflict.

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“I do not want Scotland to join post-Trump America and pre-election France as this year’s focal point for global instability.”

The SNP said “inflammatory language” about fratricidal conflict showed the Tories had “completely lost the plot”.