Tom Peterkin: Allegations of financial impropriety are troubling for SNP

The plight of Natalie McGarry and Michelle Thomson is hugely embarrassing for the SNP. Picture: Getty
The plight of Natalie McGarry and Michelle Thomson is hugely embarrassing for the SNP. Picture: Getty
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As Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell might have put it in The Importance of Being Earnest: to lose one new MP to a financial scandal may be regarded as a misfortune – but to lose two looks like carelessness.

The plight of Natalie McGarry and her colleague Michelle Thomson is hugely embarrassing for Nicola Sturgeon’s party.

It was just a couple of months ago that the SNP had to endure days of damaging headlines when Thomson’s involvement with a series of highly suspect property deals came to light.

The deals brokered by Thomson’s former solicitor Christopher Hales, who has been struck off, are the subject of a police investigation.

With Thomson still stuck on the sidelines having resigned the SNP whip, the whiff of another financial scandal began to settle around McGarry.

Like Thomson, McGarry is now suspended from the party as police investigate what has happened to the grand total of £30,000 which has gone missing from the Women for Independence (WFI) campaign group.

It should be noted that both women maintain their innocence and have vowed to clear their names.

But until they are able to do that, the duo have other things in common which are distinctly uncomfortable for the SNP.

Both have been forced from the SNP’s front bench, an unedifying fall for politicians once seen as rising stars in the party. Thomson entered parliament as an MP with a strong business background and McGarry had a reputation as a feisty campaigner with impeccable SNP credentials.

In McGarry’s case she is the SNP’s equivalent of aristocracy. Her mother Alice has been an SNP councillor in Fife for three decades, while her aunt is Tricia Marwick, who has served as an SNP MSP since the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 and is now its widely respected Presiding Officer.

Given McGarry’s background, it must have been with considerable grief that her colleagues in Women for Independence felt it was necessary to call in the police to examine what has happened to the unaccounted for cash.

But just how seriously they took the matter was illustrated by the fact that a statement supporting the action was signed by all of the 23-strong Women for Independence committee save McGarry herself and two others who could not be contacted at the time.

Another sign of the gravity with which this is being treated is that the WFI national committee reads like a who’s who of independence campaigners, some of whom are close to Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, the chief executive of the SNP.

Given the group’s close links to the SNP, opposition parties are demanding to know if these discrepancies should have been picked up and reported to the SNP candidate selection process before the May general election.

There is also the wider question of the SNP’s vetting procedures, which should be able to detect the presence of any skeletons lurking in candidates’ closets.

Another quotation attributed to Oscar Wilde is that “there is only one thing in life worse than being talked about and that is not being talked about”.

One assumes that the SNP would make an exception to that aphorism in the case of Thomson and McGarry.