ALL Theresa May needs to do to stop a second referendum on Scottish independence – for now – is negotiate a soft Brexit, says Nicola Sturgeon.

Sturgeon’s comments during an interview with BBC Scotland yesterday morning were pounced on by opposition parties who said it showed it was “highly likely” the First Minister was pulling back from another independence referendum.

Though the First Minister made it clear she thought it a “reasonable assessment” to say “indyref2 appears more likely than a soft Brexit”.

According to the Scottish Government’s European options paper published before Christmas, soft Brexit is where Scotland is a member of the European Economic Area, and remains in the single market.

The chances of that happening, currently, seem fairly remote.

Speaking on Good Morning Scotland programme, Sturgeon said: “We want to try to work with others across the UK, across the political spectrum, to try to keep the UK in the single market. If that can’t be done, then we want to explore ways – and we’ve put forward how we think this can be done – of keeping Scotland in the single market while continuing to protect free trade across the rest of the UK and said very clearly, of course, that would require additional powers for the Scottish Parliament.”

The First Minister said there was a burgeoning consensus on what those additional powers might be, including immigration. She continued: “We’ve put forward very detailed plans about how we avoid a hard Brexit and the reason it’s important to avoid a hard Brexit, let’s not forget, is because that will have a devastating impact on our economy and on jobs. So, I've been willing, and am willing, to put aside my preferred option of independence in the EU to see if we can explore a consensus and compromise option.”

When asked if soft Brexit would mean that independence was “off the table,” Sturgeon replied: “I’m never going to stop arguing for independence. I think Scotland will become independent and I think that’s the direction of travel. But we’re talking at the moment in the context of the Brexit vote.”

She added: “In terms of the timescale of Brexit, that’s what I’ve been very clear about. Am I going to stop arguing for independence or believing in independence? Am I going to stop believing Scotland is on a journey to independence? No.

“But we’re talking here in the particular context and timescale of Brexit, and I’m putting these proposals forward in good faith. I’m deliberately saying, ‘Put my preferred option to one side', and asking people if we can find a consensus.”

After the interview, the First Minister tweeted the front cover of yesterday’s National, which featured Norwegian prime minister Erna Solberg stating the UK faces “a very hard Brexit.”

Sturgeon followed that up with a public response to a tweet saying indyref2 was more likely than a soft Brexit. “Reasonable assessment,” she said, “But @ScotGovFM compromise proposals for so-called ‘soft’ Brexit put forward in good faith. Ball is in PM court.”

Scottish Labour’s Iain Gray said: “After reading the polls which show that Scots are opposed to her plan for a second referendum, Nicola Sturgeon could be forgiven for wanting to back away from another referendum. But the First Minister could clear up any doubt about her intentions by ruling out another referendum altogether. The vast majority of people in Scotland don’t want to go through another referendum.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “By playing a never-ending game of will she-won’t she on another independence referendum Nicola Sturgeon is in danger of inflicting considerable and damaging economic uncertainty on Scotland.”

Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: “Scotland is kept in limbo as Nicola Sturgeon tries to find an escape route after marching her troops to the top of a mountain, but still keeping the threat of a second referendum on the table as a possibility for the future.

"The First Minister should act in the interests of the whole country by recognising the decision Scotland made just two years ago and respecting that result.”