This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

Ash Regan has likely kissed goodbye to her future parliamentary career at Holyrood after she popped up at the Alba conference at the weekend as Alex Salmond’s party’s first MSP.

Mr Salmond’s independence-focused party has never won an election – having two MPs who defected from the SNP, now Ms Regan who has parted from the SNP, and councillor Chris Cullen who announced he was leaving the SNP for Alba.

In truth, it’s been a pretty dismal year for Ms Regan.

She quit the government in protest of the gender recognition reforms in October last year to little avail as the legislation was overwhelmingly backed by Holyrood – but the Scottish Government has not really looked back or particularly missed her.

Ms Regan kickstarted the biggest-ever Holyrood rebellion for the SNP as seven politicians refused to vote as they were told and refused to back the proposals to make the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate more dignified for trans people.

But after that legislation came and went, and was subsequently blocked by the UK Government, Ms Regan’s future has been on as shaky ground as the SNP’s independence strategy.

Ahead of the last Holyrood election, Ms Regan faced a selection contest for her Edinburgh Eastern seat from a local councillor and former housing convener for Edinburgh, Kate Campbell.

Read more:

UnspunPolitics is most potent when it focuses on human suffering

That was quite a backlash against a sitting SNP minister, but think how that selection could have gone had it come this side of her quitting the government in the huff at a policy included in the manifesto she ran the election campaign on.

We all remember Ms Regan’s failed SNP leadership campaign, when she came miles behind Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes.

There were plenty of awkward moments, there was her independence “readiness thermometer”, branded “weapons-grade bananas” – that currently looks to be rock bottom.

The Herald: Ash Regan came in a distant third behind Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes in the SNP leadership contestAsh Regan came in a distant third behind Humza Yousaf and Kate Forbes in the SNP leadership contest (Image: Newsquest)
And that lack of fizz on independence is why Ms Regan said she decided to leave the party that got her elected for Alba.

She insisted that “independence cannot be a carrot deployed only to attract voters during election times” as she warned the SNP has neglected the cause.

Many independence supporters will completely agree with her, which is a problem for the SNP.

Scottish independence has not looked further out of reach in more than a decade.

The First Minister used the SNP conference in Aberdeen to call on delegates to focus on the case for independence, what life outside the UK could look like, and not dwell on the route to achieving separation.

There is an obvious reason for that – the path looks non-existent.

The conference tweaked Nicola Sturgeon’s utterly wild ‘de facto’ referendum plans which suggested if the SNP or pro-independence parties won a majority of votes in Scotland in the next general election, that would be enough to open up talks with the UK Government about separation.

Now, it turns out, a majority of seats, which could include the SNP losing a significant number of MPs, would be a mandate to potentially open up those talks.

Neither the Conservatives nor Labour will acknowledge any request to do so – essentially tearing up the route to independence.

Read more:

UnspunNeil Mackay: Sturgeon, SNP and missing Covid messages... Something is rotten here

This has understandably frustrated many in the SNP who see the party as having one goal – to remove Scotland from the Union.

Since 2007, the SNP has expanded its appeal – it became a centre-left party that appealed to a large chunk of the electorate, notably Labour voters who had seen enough of the turmoil it was once surrounded with.

Now, the SNP, through the Scottish Government, wants to govern well – it is not just about independence.

It’s up for debate whether that mission has been a success so far, but it has been a priority, alongside battling for independence, for the SNP at Holyrood.

Some inside the SNP have had enough with the lack of progress on independence, others feel policies at Holyrood are damaging the party’s reputation.

In March, after Nicola Sturgeon quit Bute House, her former SNP minister, Ben Macpherson, suggested that a gradual route to independence was now “almost unavoidable”.

He argued that by building “common ground” to gradually win fully-fledged independence and claimed that the transition period following any vote for Scotland to leave the UK could take “many years” or even “potentially decades”.

But patience is wearing paper thin – and that’s why we have seen Ms Regan jump ship, albeit to one that is sinking.

Many obvious candidates to follow suit, Angus MacNeil, Fergus Ewing and Joanna Cherry, have ruled out joining Alba. This might say more about the woeful future ahead for Alba than retaining satisfaction with the SNP.

Mr MacNeil, who was suspended from the SNP for internal squabbling, has said he would gladly work with Alba, but doesn’t appear to be in line to become a party MSP.

Lisa Cameron jumped ship from the SNP to the Tories last month – she had plenty of reasons to pick from, including staring deselection square in the face.

Sign up for Unspun, Scotland's top politics newsletter – sent to your email every evening.

Alba didn’t even manage to get a councillor elected at the 2022 vote, Mr Salmond failed to get a seat at Holyrood on the regional list – the party holds no favour with the public to be any kind of force.

But that doesn’t stop some wanting to jump ship.

It is unlikely many other big names will follow Ms Regan into the abyss – but the problems around independence she has highlighted will not go away anytime soon.

Inside the SNP, the majority will not miss Ms Regan, but they will still pine for the troubled independence campaign, currently on life support, to be revived.