Tom Peterkin: Thomson scandal benefits SNP rivals

Michelle Thomson has resigned the whip as an investigation takes place'. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Michelle Thomson has resigned the whip as an investigation takes place'. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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MICHELLE Thomson’s property deals offer hope for the SNP’s opponents, writes Tom Peterkin

For Scotland’s opposition parties – wearied and frustrated by the inexorable rise of the SNP – there may at last be a glimmer of hope.

At Holyrood yesterday it was possible to detect a slight spring in the steps of Labour, Tory and Lib Dem MSPs as they spoke in hushed tones about the SNP’s current difficulties. For months now, the SNP has looked unstoppable.

Poll after poll has confirmed their remarkable popularity despite defeat at the referendum. Attempts by the opposition parties to land a punch or two have appeared to make little or no impression.

Throw a juicy scandal into the mix, however, and things can change. A scandal has the potential to change political momentum in a way that no amount of earnest scrutiny of a Government’s record on health and education possibly can.

That is why the controversy over Michelle Thomson’s property deals offers Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems something to get their teeth into.

Schadenfreude is a far from attractive trait. But given the adversarial nature of politics it is not beyond politicians to indulge in it.

Thomson’s difficulties offer hope to the SNP’s opponents that if the SNP’s balloon cannot be burst, at least there is now the prospect of a slow puncture. On the face of it, Ms Thomson’s involvement with the struck-off solicitor Christopher Hales look very damaging indeed.

It should not be forgotten that Thomson claims she has always “acted within the law” and says she intends to co-operate with the police inquiry into her property deals.

But, to have worked so closely with a solicitor – Hales – who has since been struck-off does not bode well for her political future.

A ruling by the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal saw Hales found guilty of professional misconduct for his part in 13 deals involving Thomson or her firm M&F Property Solutions.

The severity of the situation was clear when Thomson stepped down from the SNP front bench, on which she had an important job as the party’s business, innovation and skills spokeswoman.

The affair raises myriad questions about her selection as a Westminster candidate as well as the high profile role she took during the independence referendum.

Her opponents’ schadenfreude was mixed with frustration that this week’s story did not come to light before last year’s big vote, given her position as one of the leading lights in Business for Scotland. Hence the questions about who knew what when.

But even as things stand, Thomson’s resignation of the party whip gives the SNP’s opponents a scalp. The much-vaunted 56 MPs at Westminster are no longer “The Fifty-Six”. They are just the 55.

The opposition parties can also take comfort from the allegations of cronyism and the question marks over the use of public funds for T in the Park that saw Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop given an uncomfortable ride in committee earlier this week.

No wonder that the Tory candidate Adam Tomkins tweeted yesterday: “All bubbles burst. All tides recede. Even the SNP’s #Hyslop #TITP #Michelle Thomson.”

Mind you, for every silver lining seen from an anti-SNP perspective is accompanied by a cloud.

In this case the cloud would appear to be the rather large one hanging over former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael with this week’s ruling that a hearing into claims that he misled the electorate over a leaked memo is to go ahead.