Women are helping to drive increased support for independence because they now view it as the least risky option, according to a senior academic.

In the 2014 referendum, men were more likely to vote Yes than women.

But recent polls suggest that trend has now been eliminated, with overall support as high as 55%, according to a Panelbase survey in August.

Heinz Brandenburg, a senior professor of politics at Strathclyde University, believes the gender divide has been cut in the wake of a possible no deal Brexit and Boris Johnson's government handling of the  coronavirus pandemic.

"At the time of the 2014 referendum, there were studies that showed people cautious in their general attitudes to life were less likely to vote yes and people more comfortable with risk were more likely to vote yes," he told the Sunday Mail.

"There is also a lot of psychological research that would suggest men are more risk prone - if you have two policy options and one has much more risk, you can be sure it will be the one preferred by men and vice versa. During the 2014 the referendum, and certainly for four years afterwards, there was a big gender gap of up to 10% between male and female support for independence. But something has happened now - if you look at almost every poll since 2020, support for independence now comes as strongly from women and men.

"That change is something that is extremely rare. One example would be in America where you had women in the 50s and 60s being more conservative and more likely to vote for Republicans.

"But, over the last 20 years, 2020 that has shifted and women are now more likely to support Democrats.

"But that took decades. Here, we are seeing something that has happened in the space of a year, where the gender gap seems to have flipped."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs earlier this month that a draft Bill will be drawn up setting out the timing, terms and question for a new referendum.

Polls suggest support has now been the majority view for much of 2020.

Brandenburg added: "With coronavirus, you have seen a strong female leader who has appeared to show more empathy and competence, and that has perhaps had an impact.

"But part of it must be that Brexit has created such a lot of uncertainty, and the fact that we increasingly don't know what it is going to look like has meant that the risk of independence is weighed against complete uncertainty.

"It used to be that voting for independence was weighed against something that seemed stable and consistent but that is no longer the case.

"It seems likely that this has been a factor in the increased support among women."