The defection of former SNP leadership contender Ash Regan to the Alba Party, is “no great loss”, Humza Yousaf has insisted.
The Scottish First Minister and SNP leader insisted he was not suprised by Ms Regan’s decision to quit and join the rival pro-independence party, set up by former first minister Alex Salmond.
Ms Regan, who has now become Alba’s first ever MSP at Holyrood, said she was defecting from the SNP because it had “lost its focus on independence”.
The move, announced at the Alba Party conference in Glasgow, comes just two weeks after MP Dr Lisa Cameron quit the SNP to join the Tories – with the SNP’s rivals in Scotland saying the latest defection exposed Mr Yousaf’s party as “divided and chaotic”.
But Mr Yousaf, however, said Ms Regan’s departure was “no great loss to the SNP group” in the Scottish Parliament.
Speaking to The National newspaper he said he was not surprised by the move, but said if Ms Regan “had principles” she would resign her Edinburgh Eastern seat and spark a by-election.
Speaking about the defection the SNP leader said: “It is no great loss to the SNP group I have to say, and it is also hardly not a surprise either given Ash’s statements for many months, in fact for longer than that.”
He added: “Ash should do the decent thing, she should resign her seat – she was elected on an SNP ticket.
“I can give you a guarantee that people did not vote for Ash in her constituency because of any personal vote, they voted for her because she had the SNP logo next to her name in the 2021 election.
“So if she had principles she would do the right thing and resign – but I have to say it is no great loss to the SNP.”
#AlbaGlasgow is pleased to welcome Ash Regan to the party as a principled colleague who is fighting for #ScottishIndependence not as some abstract hope for the future but something for the here and now. pic.twitter.com/tslbCSzYpQ
— ALBA Party Glasgow (@ALBA_Glasgow) October 28, 2023
Ms Regan had previously spoken out against SNP policy on gender recognition reform, quitting her role as community safety minister so she could vote against legislation on this.
She ran for the leadership of the party this spring after Nicola Sturgeon announced she was stepping down, but was eliminated after the first ballot after securing the backing of 11% of SNP members.
During that leadership campaign she denied having any intention of joining the rival pro-independence party.
Ms Regan told The Herald newspaper then: “If I’d wanted to go and leave and go to Alba I would have done it by now, wouldn’t I?”
However, she said on Saturday that it had “become increasingly clear that the SNP has lost its focus on independence” adding that she “could not, in good conscience, continue to be part of a party that has drifted from its path”.
Ms Regan, who was first elected as an SNP MSP in 2016, said it had been “an honour to serve the people of Scotland as an MSP and a minister”, as she said she would now “take up the mantle of leadership for Alba at Holyrood”.
In doing this she vowed she would have a “clear focus on reinvigorating the cause of independence”.
She said: “I am committed to working tirelessly to create a Scotland that leads, not follows — a Scotland that leads the way in living standards, economic resilience, and innovation.”
Mr Salmond said he was “delighted” to welcome Ms Regan to Alba.
The former first minister said: “Her commitment to the cause of Scottish independence has never been in question, and her addition to Alba sends a powerful message about the focus and determination we bring to achieving an independent Scotland.
“Having Ash join the Alba Party enriches our team and sharpens our focus on the immediate need for Scottish Independence.
“She brings a level of commitment and principle that is deeply admired across Scotland, and I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome her into our ranks.”
However, Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “This second defection in as many weeks is just the latest blow to Humza Yousaf’s increasingly divided and struggling SNP.
“He can’t convince even his own senior MSPs to remain onside, even when he’s abandoned all the normal duties of government to focus on independence.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said “Sixteen years of command and control has come crashing down spectacularly as the SNP is hit by yet another defection.
“This divided and chaotic party is incapable of standing up for Scotland.”
And Scotland Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton stated: “The SNP is falling apart, with the prospect of independence fading far into the distance there’s nothing to hold their extreme factions together.
“After 16 years in government they are a divided and chaotic mess.”
With the announcement of Ms Regan’s defection coming as the Scottish Greens were also holding their conference, a Green spokesperson said: “Today for us is about celebrating the many achievements in government of our growing Scottish Green movement, not the desperate acts of others.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “Ash Regan should do the honourable thing and step down to allow a by-election.
“Her constituents elected an SNP MSP, and they deserve to have the democratic opportunity to elect a new, hard-working SNP parliamentarian who will put the interests of Scotland first.”