Nicola Sturgeon has increased the expectations of a bid for a second Scottish referendum in the midst of Brexit, saying independence offered Scotland the chance to “aim higher and do better”.

The First Minister’s declaration came in Twitter exchanges as she dismissed as “pretty skewed logic” a suggestion to make 2019 the year to end the pipe dream of a second vote on Scotland’s future.

Before Christmas Ms Sturgeon once again delayed a decision on calling for so-called indyref2, saying she would “wait until the dust settles” ie until after MPs have their meaningful vote on Theresa May’s Brexit Plan due in two weeks’ time.

But by talking up the attractions of independence in the midst of the Brexit crisis, the SNP leader will only fuel expectations among her party’s grassroots. Nationalist MPs are already talking up the prospect of another independence referendum this year should the UK crash out of the EU.

READ MORE: Jacob Rees-Mogg - Scotland must wait 20 years for new Indy Ref vote

However, in response to the FM’s tweet, Pamela Nash, Chief Executive of Scotland in Union, said: “Brexit has demonstrated precisely how difficult it is to negotiate a deal to leave a close political union between nations.

“When you see how hard it is to leave the EU, just imagine the upheaval of leaving the UK; a 300-year-old union compared to a 45-year one; and one which is significantly more entwined.”

The former Labour MP added: “Our trade with the rest of the UK is worth four times our trade with the EU and Scottish independence would be eight times as costly as the worst-case Brexit.

“The majority of people in Scotland know that we are better off together with a shared culture and history we can build our future on.

Nicola Sturgeon needs to accept reality and she should take the threat of a divisive second independence referendum off the table.”

OPINION: Garry Hassan - Independence is about more than an indyref - it is a state of mind

Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s bid to get an eleventh-hour “legal lock” on the Irish backstop suffered a double blow.

Talks with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists culminating in a No 10 lunch with the party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds failed to produce a breakthrough as the Belfast MP emerged to denounce the “nonsense propaganda about a hard border”.

"The Withdrawal Agreement, as currently proposed, flies in the face of the Government's commitments on Northern Ireland as we leave the EU," he declared.

READ MORE: Confusion over Labour's stance on second Scottish independence referendum

As Mrs May returned to Downing St following the festive break to continue phone talks with EU leaders, Ireland’s Leo Varadkar and Germany’s Angela Merkel themselves spoke for 40 minutes, agreeing the UK-EU agreement could not be changed.

"This is a problem created in London,” insisted the Taoiseach, “and we're really looking to them for a solution.”