IAN Blackford, former leader of the SNP in Westminster, will step down as an MP at the next election, he has confirmed.

He has served as the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber since 2015 and said he looked forward to “playing my part” from outside frontline politics when he leaves Westminster.

Speculation had been mounting he would quit his seat, but he told The National as recently as last month he had not considered resigning

It comes after he was ousted as Westminster leader of the SNP late last year. Some MPs felt his style at Prime Minister’s Questions was too long-winded and many prefer Stephen Flynn’s snappier approach.

After he was ejected as Westminster group leader, he was tasked by the SNP leadership to research and draw up plans for Scotland’s “industrial future”.

READ MORE: Ian Blackford says Scotland 'will find way back to EU' as Michel Barnier visits Skye

His Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat is thought to be a key Scottish target for the LibDems hopeful to translate their recent wins in England across the Border.

They have put up local businessman Angus MacDonald to win back the seat for the Liberals. The area was former party leader Charles Kennedy’s territory and he had held the seat and its predecessors for more than 30 years.

In a statement to the press, Blackford said: “My desire to see Scotland become an independent country, and for our country and its people to achieve its full potential, remains as strong as when I first entered politics decades ago.

“Although I will not be standing for the Westminster Parliament at the next election, I look forward to playing my part in the continuing campaign for Scottish Independence and supporting our First Minister and the SNP as we go forward to the next election and beyond.”

Flynn praised his predecessor as a “fierce opponent” of the Conservatives during his time as the SNP group leader.

He said: “During his time as SNP Westminster leader, Ian stood across the House of Commons from four Tory prime ministers and was a fierce opponent for every one of them – taking them on over Brexit, austerity cuts, Westminster attacks on devolution, and their undemocratic attempts to deny Scotland's right to choose our own future.

"I know Ian will be sorely missed by his constituents and colleagues when he stands down as an MP but I am confident that he will have a key role in continuing the campaign for Scotland to become an independent country."

Alex Cole-Hamilton, leader of the Scottish LibDems, said the race for the Ross, Skye and Lochaber seat was going to be a "straight fight" between his party and the SNP. 

The Edinburgh MSP added: "The SNP haven’t delivered for the West Highlands. Powers and budgets have been centralised to Holyrood and there has been a complete dearth of infrastructure spend in the Highlands since the SNP came to power.  

"The people have been deprived of effective representation there since they lost Charles Kennedy as their MP in 2015.

“At the next election, the choice in Ross, Skye and Lochaber will be clear: a fresh start with local Liberal Democrat Angus MacDonald or more of the same with a central-belt-centric SNP.”