Ian Blackford has announced that he will be quitting as Westminster leader of the SNP and will take up a new role spearheading the independence campaign.
In a statement issued today, he said he would continue in his role as an MP but believes it is time for a new leader in the Commons to take the party forward to the next general election.
He is expected to be replaced by Stephen Flynn, the Aberdeen South MP and the party’s energy spokesman, who recently said he had no intention of pursuing the role.
Mr Blackford’s decision opened up simmering discontent within the party. Joanna Cherry, SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, tweeted: “I’m pleased to hear this. It’s time for fresh leadership & tolerance of debate & diverse viewpoints.
“I hope @theSNP Westminster group will be now be left to choose our new leader without outside interference & in accordance with our standing orders.”
In his statement Mr Blackford said: “I have today informed SNP MPs that I will not be restanding as leader of the Westminster parliamentary group at our AGM next week.
“After more than five years in the role, now is the right time for fresh leadership at Westminster as we head towards a general election and the next steps in winning Scotland’s independence.
“During my time as leader, the SNP won a landslide victory in the 2019 general election, with an increased share of the vote and MPs, and support for independence has continued to grow with polling this week showing a majority in favour.
“While I am stepping down as Westminster leader, I will continue in my role as the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and I have also accepted a new role at the centre of the SNP’s independence campaign, leading on business engagement.
“I would like to thank our MPs and staff for all their support over the past five years. Whoever replaces me as Westminster leader will have my full support as, together, we stand up for Scotland’s interests and democratic right to choose our future in an independence referendum.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “I would like to pay tribute to Ian Blackford for his five years as leader of the SNP’s Westminster group.
“He led the group at a time of huge electoral success for the SNP, particularly at the 2019 general election, and has done an outstanding job in holding the Tory government to account and in promoting the case for Independence.
“I would like to place on record my thanks for Ian’s diligence, tenacity, friendship and loyalty in his time as group Leader. He will continue to play an important role as constituency MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and I have also asked him to take on a role as part of the wider SNP team preparing the case for Independence.
“I look forward to working with Ian’s successor as group leader at Westminster, as we continue to make the case for the people of Scotland to have a democratic choice on the country’s future.”
Labour’s Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray said: “The SNP is in total disarray – the nats are deserting the sinking ship.
“Nationalist MPs know Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for a de facto referendum is finished before it’s even started and are worried about Labour gaining seats.”
Scottish Conservative Chairman Craig Hoy MSP, said: “Ian Blackford has jumped before he was pushed. His resignation is a total humiliation for Nicola Sturgeon. She shamefully stood by her Westminster leader earlier this year despite his appalling handling of the complaints made against Patrick Grady.
“This showed a total lack of judgement by Nicola Sturgeon. Ian Blackford should have been sacked immediately for his disgraceful behaviour but he was allowed to stay in post for several months and now gets to dictate the terms on which he leaves.
“It is clear that unlike Nicola Sturgeon, SNP MPs were not prepared to forgive how Ian Blackford put the needs of the perpetrator above the victim who had bravely come forward in this case. Whoever is elected the next leader of the SNP at Westminster must ensure that never happens again.
“The SNP Westminster group are clearly in a state of disarray and Nicola Sturgeon is rapidly losing her grip over her party.”
Liberal Democrat Scottish Affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine MP said: “From his bitter campaign against Charles Kennedy to his mishandling of sexual harassment allegations against an SNP MP, it’s clear that Ian Blackford has never been fit to lead.
“He should have stepped aside a long time ago. It’s been clear that his SNP colleagues have been pushing him to go and the recent failed leadership challenge was just one indication of their dissatisfaction.
“Ian Blackford knows that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are breathing down his neck in Ross, Skye and Lochaber. While he spends the next two years banging on about breaking up the UK, we will be laser focused on health, education and the cost-of-living crisis; the issues that really matter to the people of the Highlands.”
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