SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford to step down from role

The SNP’s leader at Westminster has announced he will step down from the role.

Ian Blackford said in a statement on Thursday that he will not seek re-election at the party’s AGM next week, claiming it is time for “fresh leadership”.

The SNP is gearing up to fight the next general election as a de facto referendum following the Supreme Court’s ruling that Holyrood cannot legislate for another vote on independence without Westminster’s consent.

Mr Blackford said: “I have today informed SNP MPs that I will not be re-standing as leader of the Westminster parliamentary group at our AGM next week.

Ian Blackford
Ian Blackford speaking in the Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA)

“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.”

Mr Blackford added that support for independence under his tenure has “continued to grow”, saying: “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.”

Just last week, Mr Blackford told The Scotsman he “looked forward” to putting himself forward for re-election as the party’s Westminster leader, adding that he hoped to be “the MP which leads the SNP group out of Westminster for the last time”.

The decision also comes in the week after fellow SNP MP Stephen Flynn knocked down reports he was seeking to challenge Mr Blackford for the top job.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who has regularly been at odds with the SNP’s leadership in recent years, welcomed the announcement.

“I’m pleased to hear this. It’s time for fresh leadership & tolerance of debate & diverse viewpoints,” she said on Twitter.

“I hope @theSNP Westminster group will be now be left to choose our new leader without outside interference & in accordance with our standing orders.”

Scottish First Minister and SNP Nicola Sturgeon paid tribute to Mr Blackford, saying: “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.”

Ms Sturgeon added: “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.”