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Ian Blackford has announced he is stepping down from his role as Westminster leader of the SNP.

“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,” he said.

He said he would continue with his role as an MP and that he has accepted a new role at the centre of the SNP’s independence campaign, leading on business engagement.

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“During my time as leader, the SNP won a landslide victory in the 2019 general election, with an increased share of the vote and MPs, and support for independence has continued to grow with polling this week showing a majority in favour,” he added in his resignation statement.

He thanked his staff and said whoever replaces him will have his full support “as we stand up for Scotland’s interests and democratic right to choose our future in an independence referendum”.

SNP sources have told Sky’s political correspondent Joe Pike that Mr Blackford’s move was “a long-time coming”.

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Many are tipping SNP MP Stephen Flynn to be his successor.

Mr Flynn, 34, is party’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) spokesperson at Westminster.

He has previously denied he was mounting a leadership challenge against Mr Blackford.

‘Time for fresh leadership’

Joanna Cherry, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West, said she was “pleased” to hear about Mr Blackford’s departure.

“It’s time for fresh leadership & tolerance of debate & diverse viewpoints. I hope @theSNPWestminster group will be now be left to choose our new leader without outside interference & in accordance with our standing orders,” she tweeted.

Mr Blackford had previously faced calls to resign over his reaction to one of his MPs sexually harassing a staff member.

The victim, who was inappropriately touched by SNP MP Patrick Grady at a party in 2016, told Sky News earlier this year: “Ian’s position right now is untenable, and it will continue to be so. It will only get worse.”

Mr Blackford was under pressure after a leaked recording emerged in which he encouraged colleagues to support Mr Grady.

The SNP Westminster leader later released a statement in which he apologised for the “completely unacceptable” behaviour the victim was subjected to, and an external review was launched into the support available to staff.

Mr Grady has said he is “profoundly sorry” for his behaviour after being found to have breached Parliament’s sexual misconduct policy.

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UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year




UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year

Any move to introduce conscription by Britain and other NATO allies would make a difference to Europe’s defences against Russia, Latvia’s foreign minister has said.

Krisjanis Karins said the larger the country, the bigger the difference.

Asked whether he was advocating such a step, the top diplomat told Sky News that he is “happily sharing” with colleagues the experience of his own nation, which reinstated mandatory military service last year in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“We think it’s a very good idea for us,” the foreign minister said, speaking on the sidelines of a recent security conference in Germany.

“I think other NATO allies could consider it as well.”

Follow latest: Sunak and Starmer pledge support ‘for as long as it takes’

Latvia, one of the three Baltic states who are members of the NATO alliance, scrapped conscription almost two decades ago.

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But it decided to reintroduce the draft as part of a plan effectively to double the size of its armed forces – professionals and reserves – to 61,000 by 2032.

“The point of the draft is to beef up capable, equipped and trained reservists,” Mr Karins, a previous Latvian prime minister, said.

“It’s not replacing the professional army. It’s augmenting the professional army.”

Krisjanis Karins said conscription in the UK could be a good idea
Krisjanis Karins said conscription in the UK could be a good idea

Asked whether he thought it would make a difference if the UK started conscription, the foreign minister said: “I think it would make a difference if any European country [did] – and of course, the larger countries, it would make a bigger difference.”

As for whether this was an idea he was pushing, he said with a smile: “It’s the experience that we have that I’m happily sharing with all of my friends and colleagues.”

But UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who also spoke to Sky News at the Munich Security Conference last week, sounded less than keen about even training citizens voluntarily – an idea the head of the British Army appears to support – let alone mandatory military service.

“We have a professional army of professional armed forces. It’s really important that they are trained to the highest possible standards,” Mr Shapps said in an interview.

“Everyone knows that in a wartime – First World War, Second World War – scenario, of course, countries have to make other arrangements.

“That’s not the position we’re in now. We have absolutely no plans to do that now. And so that’s not something which is on the agenda currently.”

Latvia will train up to 800 conscripts this year
Latvia will train up to 800 conscripts this year

Yet a Latvian general explained how conscription is about much more than simply generating fresh boots on the ground – it is also about growing a sense of national service and a desire for each citizen to do their bit to help protect the country.

“Everyone has the right to serve – an obligation to serve – the nation,” said Major General Andis Dilans, the Chief of the Joint Staff of the National Armed Forces, Latvia’s second most senior commander.

“This is really the cornerstone of democracy,” he said in an interview in the Latvian capital Riga.

“Therefore, we looked at this not just as a war-fighting force of the conscription, but looking at the connection between the public and the military in case of crisis, in case of war.”

Sky News was invited to visit a training base in southeast Latvia, close to its border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, where a mix of conscripts and other recruits were going through a three-week basic training course with the National Guard.

The National Guard is a branch of the armed forces that is made up of volunteers. At a time of war, they would offer support to the professional military.

“Bam! Bam! Bam!” the recruits shouted, rifles raised, mimicking the sound of gunshots, as they practised a response to an ambush on a muddy shooting range surrounded by forest.

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Was lack of ammo to blame for Russia taking Avdiivka?

British Foreign Secretary Grant Shapps says there are 'absolutely no plans' for conscription
British Foreign Secretary Grant Shapps says there are ‘absolutely no plans’ for conscription

One group of soldiers provided cover, as a second group moved forward, stopped and then took their turn to provide cover as their colleagues advanced.

Edging close to the site where their pretend enemy had launched the ambush, the troops lobbed an imaginary grenade and hit the ground to brace for what would – if done for real – be a deadly impact, before scrambling forward to press on with their counterattack.

Eduard, 18, was one of seven conscripts among the group of about 20 on the range. All seven were voluntary conscripts, rather than being ordered to serve.

“I think that every man in the world needs to at least try military life,” said Eduard.

Conscripts can choose to go through a solid 11 months of training or stretch it out during five years, in between their civilian lives.

Eduard said he had decided to do the latter so he could continue his studies as well.

As for what he would do if Russia attacked, the young man said: “I will defend my country.”

Maxim, 21, a second conscript, was also enthusiastic about his limited time in uniform.

“I’d recommend that everyone samples the emotions and experiences of military life, then – if they like it – maybe they will seek to join the armed forces full time,” he said.

A total of 39 trainees were going through the basic training course at the Meza Mackevici base of 3rd Latgalian Brigade, National Armed Forces

Split into smaller units of nine to 12 people, they train, eat and sleep together.

Each day starts at 6am and ends at 11pm.

Major General Andis Dilans says everyone has an 'obligation' to serve in the military
Major General Andis Dilans says everyone has an ‘obligation’ to serve in the military

The trainees sleep on bunkbeds in makeshift dormitories that line a one-storey hangar. A canteen is in a second hanger, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Each morning, they sing the national anthem on a parade ground before three tall flag poles displaying the colours of Latvia, NATO and Ukraine – the war in that country, a constant reminder of why all three Baltic states are doing so much more to mobilise their people.

One instructor, a professional soldier who was sipping soup from a bowl during his lunchbreak, offered his perspective on conscription.

“I think that the most important thing is to awaken the desire to protect and defend your country,” said Staff Sergeant Gunars Brencis, 36.

“[It is] to awaken the patriots in them so that they have the courage to stand up against the enemy if needed.”

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What could this years US presidential election mean for the world?




What could this years US presidential election mean for the world?

The second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine comes as America prepares for a crucial election and while funding for a Ukrainian victory remains blocked in a divided Congress.

As our own frontline eyewitness reporting shows, Vladimir Putin has the upper hand.

Western leaders have repeatedly warned that Putin won’t stop at Ukraine given the chance. We are reminded that even on the eve of his invasion two years ago, Putin insisted he would not move into Ukraine.

Ukraine-Russia war latest: Putin ‘may achieve war goal’

So what might happen in the months and years ahead?

Here are two scenarios. Far-fetched? It depends if the rhetoric is accurate.

Scenario one:

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It’s March 2025 and a few weeks since Donald Trump was inaugurated as America’s 47th president.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump

Air Force One has just touched down in Istanbul where Turkey is hosting the ‘Donbas Peace Summit’ where an agreement will be signed by Presidents Putin and Zelenskyy.

At the Topkapi Palace overlooking the Bosporus River, the stage is set for a Trump-brokered ‘peace’ treaty.

The treaty comes three months after Ukraine’s weapon supply ran completely dry following an American refusal to pass funding bills and a breakdown in European unity.

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Latvia: Conscription could help NATO

This Istanbul moment is the delivery of President Trump’s campaign pledge to ‘solve the Ukraine war in a day’.

It had taken longer than a day but Zelenskyy had been cornered through a lack of Western weapons.

Closed-door meetings between Trump administration officials and the Kremlin (the contents of which have not been revealed) sealed the deal: Ukraine agreed to cede the whole of the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine to an expanded Russian Federation.

Inside the Topkapi Palace, Zelenskyy first took to the stage, stony-faced and wearing a suit rather than his army fatigues for the first time since the Russian invasion three years earlier.

He signed the document and left the room without acknowledging President Trump who was presiding over the moment.

(Pic: Reuters)
(Pic: Reuters)

Minutes later, separately, a beaming President Putin emerged, signed the document and shook the American president’s hand.

Three years later in the spring of 2028, the Russian army which had been massing on Europe’s eastern flank invaded Latvia and Estonia.

The two European nations fell fast.

NATO, abandoned by Trump’s America a year earlier, was unable to defend them.

By the summer of 2029, Chinese President Xi Jinping launches an air and maritime invasion of Taiwan.

Read more from Sky News:
Who is Alexei Navalny’s wife Yulia?
Donald Trump breaks silence on Alexei Navalny’s death

What remains of Russian opposition?

Scenario two:

March 2025. Air Force One landed at Kyiv international airport. Joe Biden, recently re-elected as America’s President, descended the steps of the plane with a rare spring in his careful step.

President Joe Biden speaks about his meeting with Alexei Navalny's widow Yulia Navalnaya and daughter Dasha, in San Francisco, Feb. 22, 2024. The U.S. government is hitting Russia with the largest tranche of financial penalties imposed on Moscow since its 2022 invasion of Ukraine. They target roughly 600 people and firms from Russia to China to the United Arab Emirates. The sanctions are timed to the second anniversary of the invasion, and in response to the death of Navalny. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(Pic: AP)

On the tarmac, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy, in a suit, embraced him. Some observers said they could see tears in his eyes.

A week earlier, Russian President Putin had withdrawn the last of his forces from eastern Ukraine after a bitter winter battle in which an estimated 40,000 soldiers on both sides had been killed.

Putin’s army had been decimated after a massive increase of weapons from Europe and the United States.

The consequence of a war which had lasted three years was the near-total degradation of the Russian military.

It had been compounded by a surprise thaw in US-China relations and Beijing’s subsequent abandonment of Moscow.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy meets with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris (not pictured) during the Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, Germany February 17, 2024. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/Pool TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
(Pic: Reuters)

A dramatic shift in the geopolitics of the Middle East also helped to seal Russia’s fate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation and subsequent conviction in the 7 October Inquiry of September 2024 had paved the way for the Israeli-Saudi normalisation deal.

This isolated Iran and dented Tehran’s relations with Moscow.

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Ukraine needs ‘2.5 million shells’

Far-fetched then? Quite possibly. Donald Trump’s first presidency showed that his fickle unpredictability often cancelled out his wild rhetoric.

And a second Biden term is full of profound unknowns. Republican or Democrat, America appears far less engaged than it once was.

In a world of such discombobulating flux, and where global geopolitics is all inextricably linked, don’t rule anything out.

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Alexei Navalny’s mother ‘given three-hour ultimatum’ over son’s funeral




Alexei Navalny's mother 'given three-hour ultimatum' over son's funeral

Alexei Navalny’s mother has said she was given an ultimatum to agree to a secret funeral within three hours or else her son would be buried at prison.

Lyudmila Navalnaya said she refused to negotiate with investigators because “they do not have the authority to decide how and where she should bury her son”, according to a Navalny spokeswoman.

Ms Navalnaya wants “compliance with the law” and authorities are “obliged to hand over the body within two days of establishing the cause of death”, said Kira Yarmysh.

“According to the medical documents she signed, these two days expire tomorrow,” added the spokeswoman.

“She insists that the authorities allow the funeral and memorial service to take place in accordance with normal practice.”

The update was posted on X on Friday afternoon and it’s unclear if authorities have acted on the ultimatum.

The campaigner and politician died a week ago but authorities have denied foul play and say he fell ill after going for a walk at his penal colony in Arctic Russia.

More on Alexei Navalny

His death certificate cited “natural causes”, according to Mr Navalny’s team.

However, his wife believes he was poisoned with novichok – the same nerve agent used in an alleged assassination attempt against him by Russia in 2020.

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Russia ‘pathetically lying’ – Navalny’s widow

Mr Navalny‘s death has sparked severe condemnation of Russia by the West, and on Friday the US revealed more than 500 new sanctions.

The stalling over funeral arrangements is believed to be an effort to avoid a large public event that could feature protests and embarrass the Kremlin.

Lyudmila Navalnaya said in a YouTube video on Thursday that she had finally been allowed to see her son’s body but accused authorities of “blackmailing” her.

She said they had told her “time is not working for you” and suggested the body was “decomposing”.

“Looking into my eyes, they say that if I do not agree to a secret funeral, they will do something with my son’s body,” said Ms Navalnaya.

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Navalny’s mother being ‘blackmailed’ over body

Mr Navalny, 47, was Vladimir Putin‘s most vocal critic and the only opposition figure able to rally large numbers of people to take to the streets to protest.

He was serving a 19-year-sentence on charges his supporters say were designed to try and silence him.

Mr Navalny’s team are now offering €50,000 (£42,700) for “valuable and complete information about the murder of Alexei Navalny”.

Navalny in court 15/02/24
Mr Navalny in court a day before he died

They have also offered to arrange travel if required – suggesting they will pay for those in Russia to escape.

They previously put up a smaller reward but said it had increased “because several people wrote to us and offered to add their money”.

International condemnation over Mr Navalny’s death continued on Friday at a meeting of the UN Security Council.

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the campaigner had displayed “incredible courage” but “suffered terrible consequences for standing firm for Russian democracy”.

Two years on from the start of the Ukraine war, Mr Cameron also spoke in length about the conflict.

He said Mr Putin’s desire to “redraw borders” and “build his empire” must not be allowed to stand.

“Nothing should matter more to us than seeing Putin fail,” he told members. “We must not falter. We must stand firm.”

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