THE political fallout over Brexit has left the Scottish Government with an “awful decision” over an independence referendum, a leading historian has warned.

Sir Tom Devine, regarded as Britain’s most pre-eminent historian, believes Nicola Sturgeon may be between “a rock and the hardest of places” over a decision to vote over links with the rest of the United Kingdom.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with the National, Professor Devine, author of seminal works on the history of Scotland, insisted that the Scottish Government was “in a much more difficult place in terms of an independence referendum that it was in 2014”.

He believes the SNP has been ‘’boxed in” by Westminster, adding of the First Minister and Scottish Government: “They have this enormous choice; they go for a referendum that they might not win, which will be the end of nationalism for the current generation or more.

“Or they don’t go for it and that will be worse than when Gordon Brown marched his party up to the top the hill and back down again, not calling an election and suffering the consequences. What an awful choice.”

He says: “The question remains: is leaving Europe – with which we have spiritual, cultural, economic, historical and political connections – a big enough a hook to lure the basis for an independence referendum victory?”

He points out that the SNP could find room for manoeuvre by exploiting the distinction between passing a bill announcing a referendum and triggering a referendum. “My view would be that the Scottish Government makes a distinction between those formulations,” he says.

Professor Devine believes Brexit is a “catastrophe” for Scotland but insisted it was not certain to happen.

He said: “I have been astonished by the uncritical acceptance of the national media that it is inevitable. How can it be inevitable when you think of the hurdles to be crossed? It could take 10 years.”

The full interview with Tom Devine can be read in The National's joint magazine with Bella Caledonia, available in The National tomorrow.