THE leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats has claimed there is a “real possibility” of MSP defections after a spate of MPs quit Labour and the Tories last week.

Willie Rennie said he had spoken to MSPs who are “incredibly frustrated”, adding that he had asked them about joining the LibDems.

UK LibDem leader Vince Cable also said that the “waves will spread” to Scotland.

Westminster politics was rocked last week after eight Labour MPs and three Tories left their parties to join the “Independent Group”, which is centrist and anti-Brexit.

The former Labour members resigned over the leadership’s approach to Brexit and handling of anti-Semitism claims, while the Conservatives said their party had lurched to the Right.

Senior Liberal Democrats have also been heartened by the developments and have suggested an electoral pact with the group. Creating a new centrist political party has not been ruled out.

The defections gave rise to speculation about whether any Tory or Labour MSPs would follow the example of colleagues at Westminster.

In his speech to his party’s conference in Hamilton yesterday, Rennie reached out to politicians in both parties who are unhappy and dropped hints that defections are being considered.

He said: “I offer the hand of friendship to those who believe our country can do better than this. People who have given up on the Conservative and Labour leaderships. People who are craving change.

“Leaving your party after many years is hard. It is a risk. I get that. To those in parliament and across the country who have taken those first, bold steps I am full of admiration. To those in Scotland yet to decide – you know who you are.”

He continued: “I say to you: why settle for what you know is not right when you could forge something new that is worth fighting for? Labour and the Conservative Parties are no longer broad churches but narrow sects.

“To miss this chance today will fill you with regret tomorrow. So, come and talk with me. Let’s work together.”

Speaking afterwards, Rennie, who represents North East Fife for the Lib Dems at Holyrood, went further.

Asked if any MSPs are considering quitting, he said: “Those are the people I am talking about. It’s up to them to make their personal decision about what they do. I want them to come to their own decision, in their own time, in their own space.”

He also said: “Once the dam breaks in Scotland, there is potential for them to come. I am keen to encourage them.”

In an interview with The Herald on Sunday, Rennie said he had spoken to MSPs and tried to “understand some of the trials they have been through with their party”.

He said: “I have asked if they would like to join us. They, quite rightly, have been very cautious.”

Asked if he believed there would be MSP defections, Rennie said: “There is a real possibility that it could happen. A real possibility. I hope it happens. I don’t want to put pressure on people.”

The Herald on Sunday asked whether he would welcome a named MSP to his party, but he changed the subject.

Cable, who also gave his conference speech yesterday, echoed Rennie’s comments. Asked if the defections would spread to Scotland, he said: “Yes, the waves will spread here. I know Willie Rennie has got good relationships with quite a few people on the Labour side, some Tories.”

He added: “I am pretty certain it will come to Scotland.”

Meanwhile, Rennie warned that Brexit negotiations would "cripple" the UK for years, even if Theresa May manages to get a Withdrawal Agreement approved by Parliament.

He said there would be "years of stalemate, infighting and indecision" if the UK leaves the European Union on March 29.

Rennie insisted the only way to "make this torture stop" was by holding a second Brexit referendum.

He also likened the case for Brexit to the argument for Scottish independence, telling the audience: "Two forms of nationalism are gripping our country, with their easy slogans, their lazy facts.

"Their divisive rhetoric, their false patriotism. There are striking parallels between the claims of the Brexiteers and those who argue for independence."

Rather than seeking "more chaos" with the break up of the UK, he urged First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to focus on her responsibilities at home.

"Instead of wasting our time and money on yet another independence campaign the First Minister must deliver on her promises," he said.

The remarks came as a political analyst expressed doubt about whether a new centrist party would be successful.

Matthew Goodwin, politics professor at the University of Kent and co-author of National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think it would do very well in Oxford, Cambridge and London but that’s about it. I don’t think anywhere else would warm to that.

“Voters are basically looking for a party that’s a bit left-wing on economics (and) more right-wing on cultural issues.”