Theresa May's battle with Nicola Sturgeon for the future of the Union turned personal today as the two women traded barbs over Scottish independence.

The First Minister suggested she had a more solid mandate than the "unelected" Prime Minister, prompting the Conservatives to suggest Sturgeon had "gone the full Donald Trump".

Setting the tone for what is likely to be a long and bitter fight over "indyref2", Sturgeon appeared riled by suggestions on Twitter that she does not have a mandate for a referendum because she has no overall majority in the Scottish Parliament.

She tweeted: "A quick reminder: Tory vote in [general election] 2015 - 36.9 per cent. SNP constituency vote in [2016 Scottish election] - 46.5 per cent. Trading mandates does not put PM on strong ground."

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Taking a swipe at the fact that May has not fought a general election and was unopposed in the party leadership contest, she added: "In addition, I was elected as FM on a clear manifesto commitment re #scotref. The PM is not yet elected by anyone."

Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader who is likely to play a key role for the Unionists in any future referendum, replied: "Responding to anonymous tittle-tattle by trading mandates over Twitter? Goodness. Someone's gone the full Donald Trump ... "

In the Commons, May used a question-and-answer session over her visit to the European Council last week to aim her own waspish comments at Sturgeon.

She said: "This is not a moment for playing political games. It is a moment to bring our country together to honour the will of the British people and to shape for them a better, brighter future and a better Britain."

She added: "The evidence in Scotland is that actually the majority of the Scottish people do not want a second independence referendum."

Asked whether she had come across support for an independent Scotland joining the EU on a visit to Brussels last week, May said: "I did not detect any such support".

The Prime Minister was answering questions in Parliament after making a statement on her visit to the European Council last week.

After being asked a question by Alex Salmond, the former leader of the SNP, she pointed out that Salmond had described the 2014 independence referendum as "a once-in-a-generation vote", adding: "It seems a generation now is less than three years".