IAN Blackford “jumped before he was pushed” to leave as SNP Westminster leader, party insiders told The National.

On Thursday morning the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber announced that he wouldn’t be standing for re-election as the Westminster group’s leader at its Annual General Meeting (AGM) next week.

Stephen Flynn, SNP MP for Aberdeen South, is hotly tipped to be next in line to take over the role.

READ MORE: Who is Stephen Flynn? The MP who's favourite to replace Ian Blackford

One senior SNP figure told The National that Blackford “jumped before he was pushed next week at the AGM”, while another SNP MP has claimed the move is bringing to an end "remote control" decision making in Edinburgh.

Blackford, who has reportedly not addressed his colleagues in Westminster but did reply to their tributes to him on social media, has been defending against MP for Aberdeen South, Stephen Flynn, for several weeks, sources said.

Rumours emerged two weeks ago that Flynn was gunning for the top Westminster job and trying to oust Blackford, but the claims were immediately quashed when Flynn denied them.

The National: Blackford has been SNP Westminster group leader for five yearsBlackford has been SNP Westminster group leader for five years

The National understands that Flynn has the backing of around 30 out of the 44 SNP MPs, making him the most likely candidate to take over.

One MP said it is unlikely anyone else would be interested in being the third party group leader at Westminster.

If an MP comes forward to challenge Flynn for the leadership position, then the group will hold a vote at next week's AGM. If there’s no challenger, there will not be a vote and Flynn will take on the group leader role.

Blackford said on Twitter hours after the announcement that he would give his “full support” to whoever takes over the top Westminster job.

READ MORE: Scotland reacts as Ian Blackford steps down from SNP Westminster role

He said: “I'm looking forward to working alongside them as we stand up for Scotland's interests and our country's democratic right to choose our own future.”

A source has told The National that the feeling within the group towards Blackford is "gratefulness".

Not much is expected to change within the group if Flynn takes over as leader.

One staffer added: "He [Blackford] puts in a hell of a shift, the commute from Skye is hellish and I think he is a bit knackered".

The disquiet within the group reportedly stems from Blackford’s handling of the Patrick Grady scandal, where MPs were encouraged to support the Glasgow North East MP despite the parliament for groping a junior staffer.

An independent investigation found Grady, who is now an independent MP after losing the whip, behaved inappropriately towards a teenage member of SNP staff at a party function in 2016. He was suspended from Parliament for two days.

Blackford was forced to apologise after a recording of him telling MPs to offer Grady "as much support as possible" was leaked to the press.