October 30, 2023 - 4:40pm

A new force is emerging within the Scottish political landscape: meet the Grumpy Nat. On their grouchy and sullen shoulders hangs the balance of numerous Westminster seats at the next general election. They could, if their mood doesn’t improve soon, end the SNP’s Scottish hegemony.

The Grumpy Nats are making their mark. At the weekend, former SNP leadership candidate Ash Regan joined their number, announcing she would be quitting the SNP for Alex Salmond’s rival nationalist party, Alba. Today, South Ayrshire SNP councillor Chris Cullen announced that he would be following suit.

Their reasons are the same: they’re fed up with the SNP. For Regan (who memorably used her leadership campaign to propose that the SNP erect an “independence thermometer” in Glasgow to set out the extent of support for separation) it’s a party that has “lost its focus on independence”. Cullen echoed her comments, declaring that many nationalists, including himself, “only now are facing the dawning realisation that they have been strung along by the SNP, who have failed to deliver on independence”. 

Speculation is mounting that other leading SNP grumps, including veteran MSP Fergus Ewing and Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil, may soon tear up their party cards too. Salmond, who came within a jury’s verdict of having his career ended three years ago, is having the time of his life, once again upsetting the Scottish political apple cart.

The key question, however, is whether these defections to Alba amount to a few bruised egos wanting their moment in the sun, or whether their disaffection with the SNP is representative of a larger and more significant electoral shift in Scotland. Polling evidence has, in truth, been limited up till now: while the SNP’s poll numbers have fallen since Nicola Sturgeon’s departure, the party continues to cling onto its lead in Scotland, a few points ahead of Labour. Meanwhile, Alba has flopped electorally so far, registering only 1.6% of the vote in its first election in 2021.

Nationalist grumpiness is undoubtedly now a problem for the SNP, though. The result of the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election last month suggested that many core supporters decided not to bother coming out to vote. A combination of disillusionment over the party’s plans for independence and dissatisfaction with its record in government is taking its toll. Humza Yousaf has sought to coax these doubting voters with some red meat — declaring that if the SNP wins a majority of seats in Scotland at the general election, he’ll begin independence negotiations the day after.

But do they believe this stuff anymore? These people spent a decade listening to Sturgeon telling them independence was just round the corner and that they had to vote SNP to get it. They then watched on open-mouthed as she decided in February that she’d actually had enough. They are entitled to feel at least a little sceptical over whether Yousaf’s brand of reheated Sturgeonism will turn out to be anything more substantial.

Rather ungraciously, responding to Regan’s defection at the weekend, the First Minister declared that her departure was “no great loss”. In a parliament where he rules with a majority, that may be so. But Yousaf cannot be quite so sanguine about the voters who may follow Regan, either by shifting to Salmond’s Alba Party, or by refusing to come out and vote next year.

The SNP’s supporters are rightly narked at the moment. It’s not at all clear whether their leader has the political skills to cheer them up.

Eddie Barnes is a columnist for the Scottish Daily Mail and director of the Our Scottish Future think tank.