IAN Blackford, leader of the SNP at Westminster, has ruled himself out of the race for the party’s depute leadership.

The MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber had been widely expected to put himself forward to succeed Angus Robertson and was seen as a likely favourite for the role.

Robertson was Westminster leader until he lost his seat eight months ago, and stood down as depute leader earlier this month.

Blackford said he wanted to concentrate on his role leading the Westminster group and representing his Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency.

He told The National: “It is an absolute privilege to be a Highland MP, but I have a sprawling constituency, the biggest in the country.

“I had made my mind up last week, but I wanted the opportunity to reflect. I was being given a lot of encouragement by people in Westminster, in Holyrood and elsewhere in the party, and I wanted to be able to reflect on that.

“I am the Westminster leader and that is not something I anticipated. I am very much enjoying leading the group and I think there is an immense task over the coming period getting through the morass of Brexit.

“I take seriously the responsibilities I’ve got as leader in Westminster and supporting the government in Holyrood.

“If I was depute leader as well, something would have to give. I think it is maybe simply too much to ask.”

“I look forward to working with the new depute leader. I want to be part of that team, but I want to do it as leader at Westminster and as a constituency MP.”

He later tweeted: “I have chosen not to allow my name to go forward for nomination for SNP depute leader to concentrate on my role as a Highland MP and SNP Westminster leader.”

Blackford would not be drawn on his thoughts about who might become depute leader. Only one name is in the hat so far – that of James Dornan, the MSP for Glasgow Cathcart.

However, it is thought that other SNP politicians at Westminster and Holyrood could consider standing against him.

Among them are Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman – Blackford’s Westminster depute – Edinburgh MP Tommy Sheppard, Hannah Bardell, the MP for Livingston and veteran Perth MP Pete Wishart.

It is thought that front benchers Dr Philippa Whiteford and Joanna Cherry may also join the contest.

Apart from Dornan, others who might enter the field from Holyrood include Derek Mackay, the Finance Secretary and MSP for Renfrewshire North and West.

Glasgow Provan MSP Ivan McKee has also said he is considering his position. He previously told The National that a key aspect of the job should be to engage and support the SNP’s grassroots and the wider Yes movement.

“One thing is clear, there is work to be done: to get the party, and the movement, fighting fit for the next electoral challenges,” said McKee.

“Whether that work is the role of the depute leader ... is something that needs to be clarified.

“If the depute leader is yet again to become a de-facto addendum to the Westminster leader’s job title, then it sets a precedent for future vacancies that will be hard to break.”

Dornan told a Sunday newspaper a Yes vote in Scotland could be achieved in a referendum as soon as 2019 or 2020.

“Circumstances are changing almost every day,” he said. “It has to be at a time from the SNP viewpoint when it is of maximum benefit for us, and when that will be will be close to the [Scottish] election time, maybe 2019/2020 would be my guess.”

Politics have never been more volatile than they have over the last few years.”

The MSP said he was “not convinced”, as some have argued, that plans for another referendum were to blame for the SNP losing 21 of its Westminster seats, and that driving the party towards achieving independence would be “crucial” to his campaign to replace Robertson.

Robertson’s successor is expected to be announced at the SNP conference in Aberdeen in June.