Ash Regan became a political figure of interest not when she was made a minister in Nicola Sturgeon’s Government as Minister for Community Safety, but when she resigned from that post in protest over the Gender Reform Bill (GRR). A prominent clip of her leaving the parliament in tears after the overwhelming vote in favour of denouncing the action and saying she was very disappointed in the parliament that day.
A few months would then pass and the unexpected happened, Nicola Sturgeon; the longest-serving First Minister of Scotland and electoral bulldozer, resigned despite being at the height of the polls with a commanding 15-point lead over the resurgent Labour Party. Rumours and murmurs quickly began about asking a question no one thought would be answered for much longer; who was the obvious successor to Sturgeon?
Leadership plans following Sturgeon’s resignation
A few names were suggested in the press such as senior Party figures Stephen Flynn, Angus Robertson and John Swinney. When they were obviously not interested in running, media attention turned to Kate Forbes, Humza Yousaf and Joanna Cherry. The former two started building the momentum for their pre-launched campaigns by taking the coy and slightly non-committal ‘I have to talk to my family first’ being a classic cliche in these moments. Joanna Cherry, however, would not run, mainly because she’s not an MSP. She would also become the only endorser for Ash Regan, who had completely dropped out of the media eye and had not even been considered as a possible option for running.
Realistically, Regan’s campaign would never have taken off with any degree of success. Forbes may have torpedoed herself in a painstaking interview, claiming that she would have voted against gay marriage and that “it is wrong to have babies outside of marriage”. Humza who was widely regarded (even within his own party) to be thought of as naive and incompetent regardless of his good nature, had the most streamlined campaign.
It also became clear that Regan’s plans for leadership were based primarily on her and Cherry’s objections to the GRR, essentially a one-policy campaign. Seemingly trying to get in good graces with Alex Salmond’s Alba Party and saying it was more important to work with a party outside of parliament unable to provide votes for the Scottish Government than the Scottish Greens who hold twice the number of MSP’s than the Liberal Democrats a former political force in Scottish politics and government. Many flocked to Alba purely for Alex Salmond, still seeing him as the political miracle maker who got the country within 190,000 voters of independence in 2014 when he was First Minister. But many more will not touch Alba with a bargepole as Salmond is now widely regarded as the disgraced former leader of the SNP.
SNP losing the trust of voters
Regan’s political cosying up to Alex Salmond and the Alba party suggested that she was doing it purely to provide a larger platform for the party and would resign in protest when she inevitably lost. Now the ‘leader’ of the Alba Party in Holyrood, Ash Regan’s existence is once again something the general public is being reminded of.
Politically, the SNP find themselves losing the trust of independence supporters, causing the SNP’s polling support to tank and start falling behind Labour. Humza’s plans for the 2024 general election to be used as renewing the SNP’s mandate for a second independence referendum, at the party’s conference in October, has clearly done nothing to reverse this unfortunate reality. As things stand the SNP may lose more than half of their seats at the next election, nowhere near the 29 seats needed for the conference motion to consider it a win for independence.
Most likely Humza will resign, and the SNP will have a third leader within one term of Government. The chances are that the leader will be Kate Forbes and what this will mean for the relationship with the Scottish Greens one can simply assume to be negative and for the SNP’s chances at the next Scottish parliament election, is anyone’s guess.
Support for independence holds yet Alba makes no gains
There are two points, from the same polls that show the decline of the SNP, that are both fascinating and induce head-scratching. The first is that support for Independence remains incredibly high, to quote Sir John Curtice, the polling guru “Support [for Scottish independence] is at its highest rate since 2021 [the last Holyrood election]”. Averaging at 49%, it is painstakingly close to being the settled will of the Scottish people. The second is that despite the slow collapse of the SNP over many months and the Labour Party’s apparent incapability to reach above 32% in the polls, the Alba Party which places itself as the true alternative for independence supporters, has made no gain in support at all.
The polls have consistently shown that SNP voters have failed to migrate to Salmond’s vanity project. Alex Salmond seems to be struggling to be taken seriously, to be seen as still relevant. With a -41-approval rating, he is one of the most unpopular figures in Scottish life. Which is most unfortunate, for the main reason that as the SNP lose their will to fight, the independence movement is in desperate need of fresh leadership. All the potential in the country, in an exciting, progressive and wonderful movement has nowhere to go. Alba could be more than a vanity project, more than the ‘we want independence yesterday’ club, more than the party for people who have rage-quit the SNP like Ash Regan. It could be a real vote winner if it simply took a higher road, a less aggressive stance towards social policies (such as the GRR) and the Scottish Greens. As well as moving on from its leader.
In short, Ash Regan defecting to Alba is the least of the SNP’s problems. As the minor party works to undermine the SNP for no apparent gain whatsoever, it is clear that Alex Salmond’s previous political mastery has worn off.
Alba as a party appears to be limited to satisfying Salmon’s ego. The party is named after the Gàidhlig for Scotland, and when it was launched in 2021 it was heavily mispronounced (it is pronounced ‘Alaba’ as Gaelic expresses something known as a ‘helping vowel’ or epenthesis) not just by the press but by the leader of the ultra-nationalist party as well, showing not just their ignorance but their shallowness. It’ll be good to know how Regan pronounces Scotland’s name in its oldest national language.