FIRST Minister Nicola Sturgeon has sent a message of thanks to Ian Blackford as he prepares to step down as the SNP’s Westminster leader.

The party’s MPs are set to choose either Alison Thewliss or Stephen Flynn as Blackford’s successor on Tuesday evening.

In a post on Twitter, Blackford said: “Today is my last day in office for @theSNP as Westminster leader.

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“Thank you to colleagues for the opportunity to serve both MPs and staff as well as those who have supported and encouraged me.

“Good luck to my successor as I look forward to my next challenges.”

Sturgeon replied: “Thank you @Ianblackford_MP.”

The First Minister was among many to thank the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber for his time in the role.

MSP Neil Gray said: “Thanks Ian, as a friend and colleague you have been incredible. You will be missed from leadership, but thankfully your talent is not lost to our movement and I look forward to working with you on this too.”

Blackford will be taking on a new role leading on business management in the campaign for independence.

Former Glasgow City councillor Mhairi Hunter thanked Blackford for “putting in a hell of a shift”.

MP for Dundee West Chris Law said: “I’m going to miss @Ianblackford_MP’s graft, his guile & his gallousness.

“Most of all as a Hearts fan, I’m going to miss sitting next to him, winding him up as a Hibs supporter in order get his blood up to fight & be riled to fight the Tories at PMQs.

Elsewhere, Tom French, the SNP’s director of communications at Westminster, said: “Ian has been an excellent Westminster leader for @theSNP and the best boss you could ask for.

“He’s incredibly hardworking, loyal, kind and always looks out for staff. His personal poll ratings, and the reception he gets, underline the impact he’s made in Scotland.

“He’ll be missed."