Nicola Sturgeon has issued an open invitation to UK residents “appalled” at the behaviour of the Westminster Government to move to Scotland and be part of an “outward-looking, compassionate country”.
A stand-off is growing between the First Minister and Theresa May over the prospect of a second independence referendum.
The SNP leader used her closing address to her party’s conference to highlight the difference between the two administrations.
An independent Scotland would “unequivocally” guarantee the right of all EU citizens living in the country to stay here, the First Minister said.
She also used her speech in Aberdeen to highlight the “massive opportunities” Scotland has as a country “if we choose to grasp them”.
On the issue of a second independence referendum, the First Minister said she would negotiate “within reason” on the timing of such a ballot with the Prime Minister.
But she stressed that if - as expected - MSPs back her request for Westminster to transfer the legal power to allow Holyrood to hold another constitutional ballot, then this would become the will of the Scottish Parliament.
She insisted: “The will of our parliament must and will prevail.”
With Mrs May currently preparing to trigger Article 50 to start the formal Brexit process, Ms Sturgeon said the UK was “about to turn its back on membership of the world’s biggest single market”.
She told the conference: “Imagine what will happen if Scotland chooses to stay.
“We will become a magnet for talent and investment from all across the UK.
“So let me issue this open invitation today - Scotland isn’t full up.
“If you are as appalled as we are at the path this Westminster Government is taking, come and join us.
“Come here to live, work, invest or study.
“Come to Scotland - and be part of building a modern, progressive, outward-looking, compassionate country.”
She hit out at the Tories over their attitude to Scotland - saying the Prime Minister’s “refusal to budge an inch” in Brexit talks between the governments had forced her to announce plans for a second independence referendum.
Ms Sturgeon made clear that “there will be an independence referendum”, telling party activists that “Scotland’s future must be Scotland’s choice”.
She added: “To stand in the way of a referendum would deny us that choice.
“It would mean that the path of our country was determined, not by us, but for us. Decided by an increasingly right wing, Brexit-obsessed Tory Government.”
She accused the Conservatives of harking after the days “when Tory governments could do anything they wanted to Scotland... the days when they could impose the poll tax, destroy Scottish industry and deny all demands for constitutional change”.
But the First Minister told Mrs May: “Those days are gone and they are not coming back.”
She warned the Prime Minister that if she showed “the same condescension and inflexibility, the same tin ear” to other European nations as she had done to Scotland then “the Brexit process will hit the rocks”.
The SNP leader blasted the UK Government over its failure to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK.
“You cannot lecture others about politics not being a game while you are using the lives of human beings as pawns,” she told Mrs May.
Opposition leaders at Holyrood hit out at Ms Sturgeon for focusing on independence in the speech.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said: “This is the week that Nicola Sturgeon gave up being First Minister and instead put her obsession with independence before the day job.
“This was a disappointing and negative speech. Nicola Sturgeon seems to be more interested in complaining about the UK Government than talking up her own.”
He added: “The SNP spends so much time plotting games over separation, it now relies on other parties for policies - our plan calling for mental health workers in GP practices and A&Es was published barely three months ago.
“It is flattering that the SNP are catching up, but that does not mask the fact that the vast bulk of this speech was yet another rallying call for independence.
“We now have a part-time First Minister claiming to speak for Scotland, but in fact pursuing her own narrow agenda to the detriment and against the wishes of ordinary Scots.”
Similarly, Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “This was a speech from a First Minister who is out of ideas and obsessed by independence.
“Her attempt at wooing the majority of Scots who oppose her bid to leave the UK will fool nobody. The SNP still stands for division and grievance.
“If Nicola Sturgeon truly wants to listen to the people of Scotland, she will take the threat of a second independence referendum off the table.”
She said while the speech had included 13 mentions of independence or Scotland being independent, there was “not one mention of poverty”, adding that was “the SNP’s priorities neatly summed up”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie was also critical, saying: “Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly promised education would be “front and central” but yet it hardly merited a mention in her address.
“Mental health, another supposed priority, gets a few scraps instead of a step change investment it needs.
“In the blink of an eye her promises to our children and on mental health have been crushed by her out-of-control independence juggernaut.”