Michelle Thomson SNP row explained as ex-MP criticises party

The former SNP MP Michelle Thomson has broken her silence for the first time on the controversy surrounding her departure from the party.

Michelle Thomson as a candidate. Picture: Steven Taylor

Ms Thomson, who represented Edinburgh West for the SNP and latterly as an independent, is seeking an apology from Nicola Sturgeon for what she feels is mistreatment.

The former businesswoman spent the vast majority of her time in parliament outwith Ms Sturgeon’s party, as the spectre of a police investigation into the acquisition of her property portfolio.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Read More

Read More
Michelle Thomson: I want an apology from Nicola Sturgeon

Ms Sturgeon has been toeing a strictly diplomatic line since the outspoken politician took to the airwaves to demand the First Minister makes amends.

The SNP leader says that it was a difficult situation for her party – though it has been confirmed since last week that the investigation has been abandoned due to lack of evidence.

The background

Ms Thomson’s business interests were always partially controversial even before she was elected, given her property portfolio and the party’s centre-left platform.

The SNP were perhaps cautious to a fault when it came to their new batch of elected politicians after their landslide victory in 2015.

Having spent successive elections railing against what was perceived as the greed and self-serving profligacy, the party bent over backwards to avoid any whiff of scandal about ‘the 56’ that went to Westminster.

John Swinney, Deputy First Minister, has claimed that the decision to resign the party whip was taken by Ms Thomson herself, but even at the time observers noticed that a statement announcing her resignation was seemingly put out without consultation with the then-MP by the SNP.

Ms Thomson, who was involved in the Business for Scotland advocacy group during the independence referendum, remained popular among her fellow nationalists at Westminster, still often sitting among the SNP on their benches despite technically being an Independent.

The Argument

The former Edinburgh West MP, then, was clearly waiting until receiving what she ‘always knew’ would come, a positive outcome regarding the police investigation, to vent her spleen about how she was treated by those at the top of the party, and the media.

Whether she maintains a dignified silence after the weekend’s comments, or whether this is a mere opening salvo in what could be a long-running attack on her former party, remains to be seen.

What is true is that there are certain outlets who are always eager to provide a home for those seeking to take potshots at the First Minister.

Ms Thomson’s clear anger at being effectively left out in the cold by her party could motivate her to continue to criticise the SNP.

She certainly has a point about how quickly the party cut her loose, but it is still hard to envisage a situation whereby someone would be allowed to retain the party whip while under investigation by the police.

Indeed, there are countless examples of all parties suspending, even temporarily, the membership of politicians who are facing police inquiries.

Counter-argument

That argument, that conventional norms of politics, rather than anything more nefarious, meant the SNP had no choice in suspending Thomson, is only part of the case the party has put forward in self-defence.

Others, are simply angry at her for choosing the media to express her frustrations, if, as many guess, she intends to try and rejoin the party.

While Ms Sturgeon remained diplomatic today, talking of the difficulty on both sides, there was more than a hint of frustration when she noted that these discussions were best not hold ‘through the BBC’.

The Lib Dems retook the Edinburgh West seat in June’s snap General Election, with Christine Jardine replacing Ms Thomson as the MP.

Toni Giugliano, who now has the dubious honour of losing in the area twice (he was defeated in Edinburgh Western at the Holyrood election last year), had to face successive campaigns in which he was battling a Lib Dem campaign determined to make the elections about Michelle Thomson.

He took to Twitter to accuse Ms Thomson of having a “clear agenda” to undermine the SNP and particularly the party leadership.

The Yes movement, still recovering from a bruising election and the kicking of plans for another referendum into the long grass, doesn’t have its internal problems to seek.

But there is clearly more than one former MP’s party membership up for debate, as a party infamous for keeping a tight lid on such matters finds itself airing more dirty washing in public.