THE big news in Scottish politics today is the announcement by the SNP's Westminster leader Ian Blackford that he is to step down from the role. The Skye MP has been the leader of the SNP group at Westminster since the General Election of June 2017, which saw catastrophic losses for the SNP.

The party lost 13% of its vote share and 21 of its previous 56 seats, including those of former SNP leader and first minister of Scotland Alex Salmond; the then SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson; and the SNP chief whip Mike Weir. Although the SNP remained the largest party in Scotland in terms of vote share and seats won, the disappointing result was widely blamed for causing the party leadership to lose its nerve on plans for a future independence referendum following the previous year's Brexit vote.

READ MORE: Latest independence poll is a mixed bag for Yes movement

Ian Blackford has since seen a revival in the fortunes of the SNP at Westminster and has remained the leader of the third largest party at Westminster while both Labour and the Conservatives have changed leaders, the latter a number of times. However, there have been signs of discontent with his leadership. There was unhappiness about his handling of the complaints of inappropriate sexual behaviour made against Glasgow North MP Patrick Grady, who at the time was the party's chief whip. Grady suspended his membership of the SNP in June this year and currently sits as an independent. Grady was found by an independent investigation to have behaved inappropriately towards a member of staff at a party function in 2016 and was suspended from Parliament for two days.

One member of the SNP group was sufficiently disquieted by remarks that Blackford made in support of Grady at a private meeting of SNP MPs that they leaked a recording of the comments to the press.

Earlier this month there were reports of moves being made within the SNP group to oust Blackford and replace him. It was reported that Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn intended to try and replace him, a claim which Flynn denied.

However, just one week after the Supreme Court ruling Ian Blackford has confirmed that he is indeed to step down and will not be standing as leader of the SNP's Westminster group when the post is voted upon at the Westminster group's AGM on Tuesday of next week. In a statement, the Skye, Ross, and Lochaber MP said: "I have today informed SNP MPs that I will not be restanding as leader of the Westminster parliamentary group at our AGM next week. 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."

Following the Supreme Court ruling, we are now in a new phase of the independence campaign, it is a phase which is going to require a more robust and confrontational approach against a Conservative government which treats the democratic choices of Scotland with naked contempt. It is reported that Stephen Flynn, who is currently the party's energy spokesman, is likely to put his name forward.

It is to be hoped that the new leader will stand up more forcefully to the non-answers of Conservative prime ministers at PMQs and be prepared to make inventive use of Westminster's arcane rule book in order to make Scotland's presence felt in the Commons. Some have felt that Ian Blackford has been far too gentlemanly in his approach in the Chamber, while the Conservatives have behaved with boorish contempt. His successor must make it clear that respect must be earned, and a Conservative government which displays such disrespect for Scotland must be loudly condemned at every turn. It's time to be far more disruptive, far more willing to call out the lies of Conservative liars.

With Wednesday's opinion poll showing a boost in support for independence following the Supreme Court ruling and a huge rise in support for an independence referendum next year, it looks as though a more robust challenge within Westminster would be popular in Scotland.

With a weak and spineless Labour Party which has fully signed up to the Conservatives' Brexit agenda in its pursuit of votes in constituencies in the north and Midlands of England, Ian Blackford has for quite some time been the effective leader of the real opposition and a vocal and eloquent opponent of the disaster that is Brexit. Whoever succeeds him is going to have some very big shoes to fill. Ian Blackford will remain an MP, and as such he will still be a huge asset to the cause of Scottish independence.