Kenny MacAskill: Lessons to be learned from Michelle Thomson case

Michelle Thomson has been unfairly maligned and her political life brought to an end prematurely Picture: Greg Macvean
Michelle Thomson has been unfairly maligned and her political life brought to an end prematurely Picture: Greg Macvean
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Michelle Thomson appears to have had a raw deal, portrayed as a praying mantis waiting to pounce on the penniless. Yet she’s far from that.

Having a solicitor who was struck off is no crime. I’ve friends who were business partners with some and weren’t just far from responsible but totally oblivious to the errant actions conducted. In my time, I’ve represented a few and they’re entirely plausible, until the truth finally unfolds.

Likewise buying property cheap from those seeking a quick sale may not be the most virtuous task but it’s neither illegal nor immoral. There are many major names who do likewise for property or vehicles, buying quick but under value. In some instances, it’s a necessary service, more akin to a pawnshop in a property-owning democracy, and better than a loan shark back street or High Street.

Added to that her role in the business seems to have been at a level entirely unconnected to client interaction.

Bright and likeable with a successful business career behind her, she’s been unfairly maligned and her political life brought to a premature end, notwithstanding that she made some remarkable contributions at Westminster, not least in her heart-wrenching description of rape from a victim’s perspective.

For sure, she wasn’t helped by the Crown delay in deciding there wasn’t to be a prosecution. Many thought that at the time, even if the level of her involvement may have been in question. Fraud investigations are complex but there’s also a responsibility to those who are anxiously awaiting confirmation that no action is to be taken and whose careers, if not lives, are on hold pending it. There are other high-profile case where delay’s causing real pain and fuelling unhelpful speculation. It’s one thing trying to ensure that high profile cases are given the due weight they merit, quite another to ignore the necessity of some alacrity for those under investigation.

Some of the coverage was sensationalist to say the least, with not just leading questions asked but assumptions made that were bordering on the malicious. Suspended from her party and under police investigation, she was unable to rebut the insinuations, if not assertions, made and required to simply soak it up and wait. It’s to be hoped that she can get her life and business career back, even if the political one seems likely to be forever tarnished.

It’s hard to think of a particular individual to hold accountable for her woes as, in many ways, it was a rabid pack that attacked, but there are lessons to be learned not just for her political party but wider society. Some though should hang their heads in shame for the slant they put upon it or the venom with which they pushed it, whether for cheap headlines or political capital.

It affects our society as it makes good people question why they would ever want to venture into political life. Of course, once you become a public persona in many ways your life is no longer your own. Your private life, as much as your public life, comes into full view. Your position makes any misdemeanour or indiscretion a matter of public record.

I know from hard learned experience that it’s just the price you pay. In most instances, it’s fair and reasonable as you are in public office.

However, when it morphs into prying through past lives and questioning every connection ever had it’s in danger of crossing a line. Our body politic needs to try and encourage not just a full spectrum of our society into its chambers but also its most talented. Whatever the public perception the pay is not a king’s ransom. It’s commitment, not cash, that drives the decision to stand.

It’s not just teachers and lawyers that are needed, it’s added to by eminent surgeons, as well as by both business leaders and those of humbler occupations. Our parliament should represent all of our society, not just be restricted to those who’ve never done anything wrong nor met anyone they shouldn’t have.

In a successful career, in whatever capacity, shoulders will be rubbed and decisions taken that taken out of context can look alarming or distasteful. As a defence agent, I represented some odious characters but I was doing my job, not supporting their actions.

As the Good Book says: “Let him without sin cast the first stone.” Of course, some politicians will always lead the queue saying “me first”. But that culture mitigates against the brightest and most talented entering and results in the career politicos, so disdained by the public, coming to the fore. Having spent their life in the political system they carry no baggage but equally possess no hinterland.

Michelle Thomson was traduced by Kezia Dugdale, who’s symptomatic of that new officer class of politician. Graduate entry almost into leadership with little life outwith politics. Yet who has more to offer in skills and experience? Cases like Michelle Thomson drive good folk out and grows a political class which ill serves our democracy.

For the SNP, they really had no alternative but to suspend her as soon as an investigation began. However, as the case dragged on legitimate questions could be asked whether that was sustainable, especially when her parliamentary colleagues with most to lose were supporting her. It again raises questions about the centralisation of power within the party. Justice needs to be seen to be done as well as being done. But it’s not just about perception, but perspective.

When your husband’s the chief executive and the business convener your handpicked finance secretary, it certainly looks as if the decision may be more about protecting you than promoting either the interests of a member, or the party. It must affect their perspective.

A political party is about all members, not just the leader, even if she’s primus inter pares. They all have rights. When there’s a clear conflict of interest both perception and perspective would seem to be affected.