Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Character building

The only thing scarier in contemporary Scottish politics than the blind, unthinking #SNPbad diatribes from Unionists is the blind, unthinking #SNPgood counterpart. 

Since the National party took over the government in 2007, Scottish Labour has at various stages called for the resignation of every single government minister (with the exception of three Sturgeon-era new ones), both First Ministers, and various MPs, MSPs, councillors and parliamentary and council candidates. I don't know why the Nationalists don't have a party mascot, but you can rest assured that if it did, it wouldn't be a terrifically long period of time before Scottish Labour called for it to resign. 

The net effect of all this, of course, is that the electorate has just switched off from their demands. When John Mackay on the STV News portentously reads out that Scottish Labour has demanded the resignation of yet another unfortunate, eyes are rolled across the country. They call so often for sackings and resignations, for the smallest and pettiest of things, that even when someone has committed an offence of such gravity that it does necessitate their withdrawal from public life, Scottish Labour calling for their resignation actually undermines the case for it. 

They're the boys' club who cried resign.

And so to Michelle Thomson, the tribune of the people of Edinburgh, West. The legitimate businesswoman has resigned as an SNP MP after questions were raised over her conduct regarding her acquisition of property from financially distressed families. 

The facts are thus: last May, the solicitor who acted for Thomson was expelled and his name struck from the register of solicitors following an investigation by the Scottish Solicitors Discipline Tribunal which found that he had committed professional misconduct whilst acting on her behalf. The panel condemned her solicitor for "facilitating mortgage fraud" whilst acting for Thomson. 

One of the transactions involved Thomson's legitimate business partner, the legitimate businessman Frank Gilbride, buying a house at a price well below market value, from a cancer patient. He bought the property for £64.000 and sold it to Thomson just hours later for £95.000. Gilbride subsequently paid Thomson £28.181,80, meaning she had acquired a property from a desperate family at an outlay of less than £3.000.

The Crown Office has now instructed the Police Service of Scotland to launch a criminal investigation into the purchases of distressed properties. And Thomson has been suspended by the SNP and is now an independent MP. 

The clattering noise you can hear is the patio furniture being overturned as Jackie Baillie runs on stage, stampeding to get to her typewriter to issue the sort of statement from Scottish Labour that we've all seen a million times. It has all the buzzwords: "Sturgeon", "come clean", "very serious", "full transparency", "who knew what when". 

This time, though, they're right. 

However, balancing out Baillie's fanatical #SNPbad are #SNPgood zealots. "She's never been prosecuted!", they shout. "Innocent until proven guilty in court!", they cry. "It's not beyond reasonable doubt that she's committed a crime!", they groan.

I have no idea whether Michelle Thomson - or her solicitor - has committed any crime. The existence of a criminal investigation is not in itself an indication that a crime has been committed. 

But that's not the point. "Beyond reasonable doubt" etc is all very well as a burden of proof in a court of law. But not everything is a court of law. 

I rather expect my MPs to clear a higher baseline of morality than "isn't a convicted criminal". 

Certainly, this is a bar which Thomson clears. But managing the absolute minimum levels of personal character and morality to be eligible to enter parliament isn't the same as having the personal character and morality to be able to serve with any distinction. 

Members of the Westminster Parliament must have no stain on their moral character, nor any question marks over their personal probity. 

An individual who preys on families suffering financial hardship so she can snaffle up their homes on the cheap before selling them on at a large profit to herself, whose solicitor in those very transactions has been struck off for his behaviour during them, does not need to be convicted in court for her behaviour to fall above the standards of a criminal, but far below those expected of a Member of the Westminster Parliament.

Meos tam suspicione quam crimine iudico carere oportere, as Caesar correctly observed. Michelle Thomson's actions may very well be within the law. There is no suggestion that they are not. But they - and, by extension, her character as a whole - fall below the standards one is entitled to expect of a tribune of the people. 

Michelle Thomson is not fit to represent the people of Edinburgh, West. She has preyed upon the needy of her constituency and her country for financial gain. She can be an MP, or she can be a spiv. But giving the impression she is close to being the latter, she cannot reasonably expect to remain as the former. As Gandhi said, the moment there is suspicion about a person, everything she does becomes tainted. That is no situation for a parliamentarian to be in. She ought to resign. And do so with haste. 

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