CIRCUMSTANCES could force Nicola Sturgeon to make a decision on indyref2 sooner than she wishes, according to Scotland’s top EU expert.

After June’s snap General Election, where the SNP lost 21 MPs, the First Minister slowed down her push for another vote, saying the government would not immediately “seek to introduce the legislation” allowing another referendum.

Instead, she said she would “come back to parliament to set out our judgment on the best way forward” when there was a better idea of the impact of Brexit. The First Minister suggested this would be next Autumn.

But Dr Kirsty Hughes, the director of the Scottish Centre for European Relations and a former European Commission official, says the “hard or chaotic” Brexit being pursued by the Tories may mean the SNP leader no longer has the luxury of waiting another year.

READ MORE: Kirsty Hughes: SNP could be forced to call indyref2 early next year if Brexit talks break down

Writing exclusively in today’s The National, Hughes says that under the Tories a hard Brexit looks increasingly likely.

This, she suggests, will lead to a “major political and economic crisis” and could result in the government falling.

She writes: “If, by early 2018, it’s increasingly clear the UK faces a chaotic ‘no deal’ Brexit or at best a damaging hard Brexit deal, and economic conditions deteriorate further, the SNP may face some tough choices.

“As the damaging reality of Brexit hits home, it’s possible public opinion in Scotland might shift on independence. Currently, a hard or chaotic Brexit looks both most likely to happen and most likely to bring a second independence referendum back on the agenda.”

Hughes also warns those backing a Yes vote that if this happens they’ll have to make the arguments for a hard border between England and Scotland.

“This will not make the pro-independence arguments any easier,” she writes. “And hopes of mirroring any Northern Ireland deal look slight.”