Ian Blackford has announced he will step down as leader of the Scottish National party at Westminster and will be replaced at next week’s parliamentary party AGM.
Blackford’s surprising statement comes just a week after he told the Scotsman newspaper he had no intention of quitting and that he looked “forward to being the MP that leads the SNP group out of Westminster for the last time.”
However, today (Dec 1) Blackford told SNP MPs: “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.”
The Independent reports “of a plot to oust” the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber over his handling of sexual misconduct allegations against SNP MP Patrick Grady.
The Guardian says Blackford was told by the SNP’s “men in grey suits” to stand aside this week. He has faced criticism not just over Grady but also for his approach to gender issues and what some in his party regard as his “closeness to the establishment” and dealing with other political parties over independence.
Flynn the favourite to succeed Blackford as leader
“We’re in need of change – it’s a shame but the party needs to feel invigorated again. We need a fresh pair of hands,” said an unnamed SNP MP commenting on Blackford’s stepping down.
Another said: “More than anything else, it’s a generational issue. There’s a feeling that we need to look to the future. Ian has done his time.”
SNP energy spokesman Stephen Flynn is favourite to succeed Blackford. Flynn, the MP for Aberdeen South, is just 34 and was only elected in 2019 but is hotly tipped to take over at the Westminster group’s AGM next week.
Blackford has faced four different Conservative prime ministers during his five years as SNP leader at Westminster and said he will take up a new role to push for Scotland’s independence, leading on business engagement.
“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,” said the departing leader.
“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.”
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon praised Blackford’s “outstanding job in holding the Tory government to account” and promoting independence. She rejected any suggestions of a “coup” against him but added it is the right time to “pass on the baton” to someone else.
As well as Flynn, other contenders to lead the SNP at Westminster include deputy leader Kirsten Oswald, Alyn Smith the party’s foreign affairs spokesperson and Joanna Cherry KC.
Cherry welcomed Blackford’s demise, tweeting: “I’m pleased to hear this. It’s time for fresh leadership and tolerance of debate and diverse viewpoints. I hope the SNP Westminster group will be now be left to choose our new leader without outside interference and in accordance with our standing orders.”
Johnson to stand for election
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson will stand again for election to parliament, according to media reports.
The disgraced former-PM’s decision is fuelling “expectations of another bid” to regain leadership of the Conservative party.
The Independent reports that Johnson is understood to have told constituents at an event in Uxbridge and Ruislip that Tory MPs made “a mistake” in forcing him out of Downing Street over the Partygate scandal.
The Guardian reminds readers that before any general election – likely in 2024 – Johnson “could first face a fight for his seat in a byelection”, should a Commons investigation find he misled MPs over the lockdown parties in Downing Street.