NICOLA Sturgeon has not ruled out a second independence referendum taking place this year.

In her first interview of 2018, the First Minister yesterday refused to explicitly say a new vote on self-determination would not happen over the next 12 months.

Her position is a significant contrast with the stance she took on the same issue last January when she directly ruled out a new referendum for the following 12 months.

“There is not going to be an independence referendum in 2017 – I don’t think there is anybody who thinks that is the case,” she told STV News 12 months ago.

But asked during a BBC radio interview yesterday about whether there could be a second independence referendum in 2018, the First Minister yesterday gave a very different answer.

“I’ll set out my views on that later this year as I said I would. I’m not going to pre-empt that any further,” she told interviewer Gary Robertson on the Good Morning Scotland programme.

“It wouldn’t make any sense for me to say I would come to a decision on that later this year and then tell you what that decision is going to be.”

If a second independence referendum was held later this year it would be in keeping with the original timing she set out for a new vote last March, saying she planned for the vote to take place between Autumn 2018 and Spring 2019.

Such a timing would also be consistent with a forecast made by former First Minister Alex Salmond, who has said he believes a new vote will take place in autumn 2018.

Her remarks come after a number of developments have indicated the SNP may well be preparing for a new vote within the next year.

In early December the First Minister told senior SNP members the publication of a document in early 2018 setting out her party’s new economic thinking will be used to make the case for independence.

She told up to 300 members of the SNP’s national council meeting in Perth, the party’s Growth Commission report would be unveiled early this year and would be linked to arguments for independence.

“She said it would be published early in the new year and that it would be a catalyst for relaunching the arguments for independence,” one of those present told The National.

The previous month Tommy Sheppard and Pete Wishart, who both sparked widespread debate when they separately made cases for putting off a new referendum, softened their positions, suggesting the circumstances that favoured a vote post-2021 were changing.

In terms of the process or holding a second referendum, the First Minister is still faced with the procedural problems she encountered when she raised the prospect of a second vote. She continues to need a section 30 order from the UK Government to hold a legally binding vote, which Theresa May has refused to give.

During the same interview yesterday, the First Minister repeated her view that the argument for a second referendum on the final Brexit outcome “may become irresistible”, particularly in the event of a no-deal scenario. She said leaving the EU without a deal was “unthinkable” and would have devastating consequences for the economy.

Sturgeon will later this month publish fresh analysis of the impact of different Brexit outcomes on the economy. She said the SNP was not campaigning for a second EU vote, but added: “I’ve also said previously and I’’ll say it again today that I do think that as the situation develops the argument for giving people a say on the final outcome may become irresistible”.