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Scottish politics

‘I don’t regret it’: Here’s what happened when an Aberdeenshire councillor quit the SNP to join Alba – will others take the plunge?

Fraserburgh councillor Brian Topping quit the SNP for Alba in 2021 and lost his council seat of 38 years. Alex Salmond now wants others to follow suit as his party seeks to build on high profile defections.
Adele Merson
Brian Topping at the Scottish local elections.
Brian Topping. Picture by Scott Baxter/DCT Media.

Former Aberdeenshire councillor Brian Topping still gets stopped in the streets of Fraserburgh by people who want a problem fixed, despite seeing his vote melt away after switching the SNP for Alba two years ago.

The community stalwart did after all represent the Broch for almost 40 years, where he built up a reputation as a champion of the town.

Supporting the SNP ever since he was a boy, the former councillor told the P&J he felt “terrible” for his local branch when he quit the party in 2021 to join Alba.

But he wanted to leave after becoming “disillusioned” with the party’s lack of independence plan and was invited to join Alex Salmond’s new party.

He was one of three SNP Aberdeenshire councillors to do so – and it’s a route Alba now hope will be followed by many more across Scotland.

Last week, former SNP leadership hopeful Ash Regan quit the SNP saying it had “drifted” from a focus on independence.

Former SNP leadership contender Ash Regan (centre) with Alba’s Westminster leader Neale Hanvey (left) and deputy leader, Kenny MacAskill (right) marking her defection from the SNP. Image: PA.

She was joined just two days later by South Ayrshire councillor Chris Cullen who said the SNP had “failed to deliver on independence”.

‘I don’t regret it’

Following Ms Regan’s move and other defections, the party is represented at every level. But it has yet to win a single seat in any election.

Despite being regarded as one of Alba’s best hopes of success in the council elections in May 2022, Mr Topping lost the Fraserburgh seat he had represented for 38 years.

He secured just 274 votes in that election – half of his 2017 tally.

But the former councillor said he does not regret his decision to switch rosettes despite it costing him his job.

Brian Topping spent decades serving his area for the SNP.

“I was disappointed,” he admits. “I think if I’d sat myself as an independent, I’d have got in.

“I was standing up for what I believe in and I believe Alba are the way forward under Alex Salmond’s leadership and skill.”

The former SNP member said a “number of people” are talking about leaving the party.

And he wants to extend the hand of friendship to other pro-independence parties.

Alba leader Alex Salmond. Image: PA.

He added: “I know a lot of them have been very disillusioned with the SNP over the last couple of years.

“Promises have been broken. We were supposed to have another indy referendum.”

There are also concerns among members in the north-east over the SNP’s power-sharing deal with the Greens.

Mr Topping, who is convener of Alba in Aberdeenshire, said many of the coalition’s policies are “good policies but they seem to go to the extreme”.

He points to hundreds of thousands of oil and gas jobs in the north-east and the need to “move gradually” to cleaner energy, rather than more drastic change.

Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan and Kate Forbes stood in the SNP leadership contest this year. Now Ash has left the party.

‘I might not have been here’

The 68-year-old came close to losing his life in April 2021, while standing for Alba in the Holyrood election.

He was left gasping for air while his quick-thinking family rushed him to the minor injuries unit in Fraserburgh, and later he was taken to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

The father-of-three was eventually diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and has made a good recovery over the past two years.

Reflecting on the experience, he said: “The doctor said if your family hadn’t taken to the minor injuries unit, you would not be sitting here now.

“I was so lucky. I might not have been here.”

Brian Topping recovering in hospital after he almost lost his life. Image: Supplied.

The ex-councillor continues to be an active member of the community, working two days a week at the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh.

There he gets to meet visitors from across the world and “show off” what the region has to offer.


Mr Topping, who has eight grandchildren, was also well known in the town for running a disco company.

While he no longer runs this as a business, he now puts on discos for schools and elderly people in the community.

The Alba activist said he would consider another run for the party in a future election.

But it is something he needs to discuss with his family who missed out on time with him during his 38 years in the council.

“I’m enjoying life a lot more – seeing my family and grandchildren”, he said.

But what is his ultimate goal?

“I live and breathe for Scotland to be independent”, he said.

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