In the past few minutes, Jackson Carlaw has quit as leader of the Scottish Conservative party. In a resignation statement, Carlaw said that he had made the decision after concluding he was 'not, in the present circumstances, the person best placed' to lead the case for Scotland remaining part of the UK ahead of the Holyrood elections next year.
His decision to resign – with immediate effect – has taken senior government figures by surprise. While Carlaw divided opinion in Westminster, ministers had not expected him to go in these circumstances. One senior Scottish Tory describes Carlaw's decision as admirable: 'It just hadn't worked out for him as leader and he made a very brave and admirable decision.'
This is, in part, because the timing of Carlaw's resignation comes at a point when the party can now pick someone better suited to lead them into next year's crunch vote.
The rising support for independence has become an urgent priority for Boris Johnson's government. At a recent cabinet meeting, ministers were given a presentation outlining the difficult political landscape north of the border. Johnson urged his colleagues to fight for the Union every day.
So, who will now do that for the Scottish Conservatives? The expectation in Scottish Tory circles is that Douglas Ross – the MP for Moray – will run to be Carlaw's successor. He is thought to have Ruth Davidson's backing – and she is tipped by some in the party as a likely stand-in at First Minister's Questions against Sturgeon when MSPs return (though Davidson will not seek re-election in the election). Ross is likely to remain as an Mp in Westminster for the timebeing so could lean on Davidson to represent the party in Holyrood in the meantime. 'Douglas will be able to take the fight to the Nats,' says an optimistic Tory MP.