Political musical chairs will lead to a loss of faith in the SNP - John McLellan

​Politicians leaving their parties is nothing new, but with the defection of Edinburgh Eastern MSP Ash Regan to Alex Salmond’s renegade nationalist party Alba, the local SNP seems to have more departures than Waverley.
Ash Regan (centre) was a surprise candidate in the SNP leadership race against Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes.  Picture: Craig Brough - Pool/Getty Images.Ash Regan (centre) was a surprise candidate in the SNP leadership race against Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes.  Picture: Craig Brough - Pool/Getty Images.
Ash Regan (centre) was a surprise candidate in the SNP leadership race against Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes. Picture: Craig Brough - Pool/Getty Images.

​In the 2017-22 administration, the SNP group on Edinburgh Council lost four councillors through disillusion, including former Edinburgh Central Holyrood candidate Alison Dickie, and immediately after the election they were followed by ex-Lord Provost Frank Ross. I presume they all still believe in independence but the SNP, for whatever reason, not so much.

Ex-Edinburgh Eastern MSP Kenny MacAskill was one of the first to jump ship to Alba, and ex-council deputy leader Steve Cardownie left the SNP three years ago and says he could vote for the new party.

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But as the sole Alba MSP, Ms Regan might find Holyrood a rather lonely place; she’s no Margo MacDonald, possibly the greatest SNP rebel of them all.

Ms Regan always struck me as something of a misfit, a supposed radical who worked for the left-wing nationalist think-tank Common Weal but sent her kids to private school, winning the party’s Holyrood nomination but for whom local figures clearly had little time.

Knowing them both, Ms Regan and her Westminster counterpart, Edinburgh East MP Tommy Sheppard, seemed, to put it mildly, not the closest and there will be more than a few local activists who will be glad to see the back of her.

The disharmony was at its most obvious when Portobello councillor Kate Campbell misread the branch by mounting an unsuccessful bid to replace her as their candidate for the 2021 election.

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There is a high price to pay for disloyalty in most parties, but I suspect Ms Regan might find life more difficult than East Kilbride MP Lisa Cameron who crossed the Commons floor to join the Scottish Conservatives.

Dr Cameron will probably not be an MP this time next year, but Ms Regan has three years left as an MSP and there is a difference between giving up on independence and giving up on the SNP’s ability to deliver it.

The latter is more damaging because it not only attacks the SNP’s commitment to its core purpose from an ex-minster, but if Ms Regan decides to stand for either Westminster or Holyrood it has the potential to split the local pro-independence vote.

There was no Alba candidate in 2019 and Labour’s candidate Chris Murray has already had a team out campaigning in the constituency, scenting an opportunity even before Ms Regan’s departure.

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Tommy Sheppard has held the seat since 2015, beating Sheila Gilmore who won in 2010 with a majority of 9000. But although Mr Sheppard’s current majority is just over 10,000, it was just 3500 in 2017 and it won’t take a swing of anything like the scale seen in the Rutherglen by-election for Labour to win.

The SNP has tried to spin the creation of Alba as a handy vehicle to clear out the trouble-makers, but even without more high-profile defections, as promised by Fife MP Neale Hanvey, that is becoming a more difficult line to hold.

With the SNP now taking hits from all sides, it’s inevitable voters will begin to lose faith and put seats like Edinburgh Eastern very much in play.

Ms Regan might be “no great loss” to First Minister Humza Yousaf on a personal level, but he ignores the pattern at his peril.