SNP shrugs off the whiff of sleaze

19 Oct 15

The smell of scandals appears not to linger around the SNP, which is not good news for Labour.

T in the Park

The SNP has been criticised for funding the profitable T in the Park pop festival – although Labour also gave the event’s promoters public cash in the past Photo: Peter Murdie


Perception is often more telling than reality when it comes to politics. When political parties get a reputation for sleaze and conduct unbecoming, as the Tories did in the 1990s, it can take a decade for the smell to lift.

With the resignation of the Scottish National Party’s business spokeswoman, Michelle Thomson MP, following revelations about her involvement in property speculation, some believe the SNP is now smelling distinctly off.

The first thing to say is that Thomson has not been charged with breaking any law. In her previous life, she was a property dealer, specialising in buying cheap flats from distressed homeowners then selling them for a profit.

There is nothing illegal about this; most businesses buy cheap and sell high. However, some of Thomson’s former clients went to the newspapers and complained that she sold them short and made a quick buck. And she was the SNP’s spokesperson on business in the Commons.

Thomson’s property lawyer, Christopher Hales, was struck off by the Law Society of Scotland for failing to report evidence of mortgage fraud, such as back-to-back selling and overvaluation of property on the Land Registry. This does not mean that Thomson was guilty of mortgage fraud herself.

However, formal innocence is rarely the issue in cases of sleaze. Most of the MPs who fiddled their expenses during the “duck house” row in 2010 did not break any law.

Similarly, when Scottish culture secretary Fiona Hyslop awarded the T in the Park festival £150,000 of public money, after lobbying by Jennifer Dempsie, a former special adviser to Alex Salmond, she did nothing wrong; previous Labour administrations had also given public money to the event.

But that hasn’t stopped people asking why taxpayers should give a wodge of cash to a company that has been making multi-million pound profits out of the event for years.

The Labour years in Holyrood were replete with scandal. First minister Henry McLeish resigned in 2001 over the subletting of his constituency offices. His successor, Jack McConnell, was at

the centre of a lobbying controversy. Then Labour leader Wendy Alexander resigned in 2008 over an unlawful campaign donation.

The problem perhaps for the SNP – or their supporters – is that they can overrreact when anyone criticises their politicians; some claimed the press carried out a “witch hunt” against Thomson.

They need hardly bother because the so-called scandals appear to have done the SNP no harm at all. The party remains on course for another victory at the Scottish Parliamentary elections next May.

Recent polls show the SNP retains a 35% lead over Labour. Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has pretty much given up on a recovery before May and seems to accept that Labour stands to lose all its seats.

The Corbyn effect, which many believe was inspired by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s promotion of anti-austerity policies, seems to have had little impact in Scotland. Labour party membership has risen, but electoral recovery remains elusive.

A recent TNS poll indicated that the SNP has 68% support among voters aged 16-34 against Labour’s 13%. There’s a grim message there for Labour: tomorrow belongs to the SNP.

In one sense, these are simply the kind of stories that cling to long- serving administrations. The SNP has been governing Scotland for eight years, yet only now is starting to see the sort of problems that afflicted both the Tories and New Labour.

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