Each week, a visitor from a distant galaxy – where the weird is not yet normal – visits the office of the Scottish Review and challenges the editor to explain the mystifying events of the last seven days on planet Earth
The strange case of Michelle Thomson...
Ah, you’ve cottoned on to that one.
Impossible to avoid considering that it was all over your Sunday newspapers. There was room for nothing else on the front pages of Scotland on Sunday and the Sunday Herald. Is this woman such an important figure in Scottish life?
Not at all. But her story is perhaps a minor morality tale of our time, and enlightens us on the ruthlessness of Scotland’s governing party. I guess that’s its main if not its only interest.
So, Michelle Thomson in a nutshell...?
A member of the Scottish National Party since the age of 16. Started her own small property business in 2009. Active in the referendum campaign through a lobby group called Business for Scotland. Elected an SNP MP in 2015 and promptly appointed the party’s Westminster spokesperson on business, innovation and skills. But then the small property business returned to haunt her. It transpired that the business specialised in a practice known as 'back-to-back selling,’ buying up property cheap, sometimes from people in financial difficulty, and selling it on for profit as soon as possible, sometimes later the same day.
Indeed, but perhaps not all that admirable. She was asked about it at the weekend. She replied: 'Looking back now, to be honest, would I do that again? No. I definitely wouldn't. It was seven years ago. At that point, I'd no idea that at some point in the future I'd become involved in politics.'
Could we examine the logic of that statement?
If you must.
What it seems to be implying is that it’s acceptable to specialise in back-to-back selling if you’re not involved in politics, but unacceptable if you are.
You could reasonably interpret it that way.
Anyway, I thought she’d been a member of the SNP since the age of 16.
I’m quoting there from Wikipedia, not always the most reliable source. But that’s what it says in Wikipedia.
Isn't that being 'involved in politics'?
I suppose it is. But there are a lot of young people in the SNP. Not all of them go on to become their party’s spokesperson on business, innovation and skills in the House of Commons.
That raises another question. How could someone with her business background have been considered an ideal person for such a role?
I’ve absolutely no idea. You’d have to put that question to Ms Sturgeon’s husband, Mr Murrell, the chief executive of the party. Best of luck.
What happened in 2015 when the police launched their investigation into alleged irregularities in her company’s property transactions? Did the party rush to her side?
Not exactly. The men in the tartan suits – Mackay and Weir by name –
descended on her. By Ms Thomson’s account, Mackay said: 'Look, to be honest – '
There seems to be a lot of honesty in the SNP. You've just quoted Michelle Thomson using exactly the same phrase.
Well spotted. May I finish? 'Look, to be honest, I think we need you to resign the whip.' Ms Thomson replied that she didn’t want to resign the whip, she was an SNP MP, that’s what she’d signed up for. Mackay said he would let her know her fate later that day. He was as good as his word. By the end of it, the former spokesperson on business, innovation and skills had been cast into the wilderness. She saw out her time at Westminster as an independent.
And yet throughout her ordeal she enjoyed a presumption of innocence.
Most certainly. A principle of Scottish justice of which we can all be proud. But innocence doesn’t come into it. The lady had become an embarrassment to her party. End of story. End of Michelle Thomson.
Wasn’t this a little cruel, coming from a party noted for its high moral tone?
You could say that. Many wouldn’t.
Presumably, though, Nicola Sturgeon privately gave her moral support – at a human level if nothing else?
Apparently not. If you heard that BBC interview with Ms Thomson at the weekend – the one that won’t be winning any awards for interrogation of the year – you will remember her saying that she would have welcomed a private conversation with the party leader. She also said – I took my usual careful note – 'I don’t have a relationship with Nicola Sturgeon. I don’t know her. I don’t believe she knows me.'
How could that be? How could the party’s spokesperson on business and the party leader not know each other? I’ve seen a photograph of the two of them walking down a street together and another of them laughing together on some bench under the Forth Bridge.
That doesn’t prove anything. In Scotland, perfect strangers often walk down streets together and laugh together on benches under the Forth Bridge. Disregard such shallow pictorial evidence.
If you say so. But now that she’s been cleared of any wrongdoing, Michelle Thomson wants an apology from Nicola Sturgeon for the way she’s been treated. Is she likely to receive one?
I fear not. Ms Sturgeon has never been in the back-to-back apology business.
So where does that leave Ms Thomson? As a perpetual victim?
She is a victim on two fairly narrow counts. First, it shouldn’t have taken the authorities two years to decide that there was insufficient evidence to justify prosecuting her. That kind of delay is fairly typical, and it's oppressive. Second, the Crown Office's shabby statement that there would be no criminal proceedings 'at this time,’ with its implicit threat of proceedings some other time, is bound to leave Ms Thomson in limbo. But to be honest – sorry, the SNP's honesty seems to be catching – I think her generous treatment by the Scottish media last weekend verged on the ridiculous.
All very strange.
Yes, we do strange rather well in Scotland.
Four million trips by visitors to Scotland from other parts of the UK last year included walking as an activity, but only 6% of the walkers were in semi-skilled or unskilled jobs. Source: VisitScotland. The number of pupils from Scotland’s poorest communities who have gained a place at university has risen by 13%, from 3,470 in 2015 to a record high of 4,150 in 2017. Source: Ucas. About a fifth of Scotland’s coastline is threatened by erosion because of rising sea levels. Source: Dynamic Coast coastal change assessment.
High Street retailers had their worst July for eight years, as takings dipped by 3.5% year-on-year. Source: High Street sales tracker. 429,000 children in the UK have to sleep on floors or share beds. Source: the charity Buttle UK. One in 10 households in the UK still have no internet access. Source: Office for National Statistics. Newborn babies show signs of learning from repeated social interaction, even in their first two days. Source: Dundee University study. Video games can improve the brain power, communication skills and job opportunities of children. Source: Glasgow University study. 35% of men in the UK feel lonely at least once a week, with 11% feeling lonely every day. A quarter of men aged between 65 and 69 believe they are lonely because of retirement. Source: Royal Voluntary Service. Work is more likely to cause mental health issues for men (32%) than women (20%). However, of the 15,000 surveyed, 29% of men had taken time off work for mental health related illness, compared to 43% of women. Source: MIND.
Earth Overshoot Day (the day each year when humanity’s consumption outstrips Earth’s production of resources) in 2000 was in October. This year it was on 2 August. Source: Global Footprint Network. If nothing is done to curb the effects of climate change, the number of deaths in Europe caused by severe weather could rise from 3,000 to 152,000 a year between 2071 and 2100, two out of every three people in Europe will be affected by natural disasters by 2100, and there will be a substantial rise in the number of deaths from coastal flooding. Source: European Commission joint research centre. Having a family pet does not improve children's health. Pet-owning children are slightly heavier in weight and more susceptible to attention deficit disorder. Source: RAND (An American research organisation). The average age of first exposure to pornography in America is 13.37. The younger a man when he first views pornography, the more likely he is to want power over women. Source: University of Nebraska study.
Drinking more coffee – around 2-4 cups a day – leads to a longer life. Coffee drinkers have an 18% lower risk of death compared to non-coffee drinkers. Source: USC Keck School of Medicine. An 'educational’ You Tube channel has carried out a study of 'how much popular foods and drinks you have to consume [in a single day] before they kill you.’ Results include: 70 cups of coffee, 1 or 2 ground down cherry pits, 480 bananas, 29 teaspoons of pepper, 11,000 oranges and 6 litres of water. Source: AsapScience. Half of selfie takers confess to editing their images with filter options or beautifying apps. Source: Ofcom. One in six Brits are put off visiting places with unpleasant names. Among the boycotted towns are Rottenegg and Windpassing in Austria, El Morron and Piles in Spain, and Bidet in France. Source: Monarch Airlines. 20% of the North Korean state budget is used on the maintenance and upkeep of Kim Jung-un’s race horses. Source: MSN.
After winning a 10-round fight against Zulpikar Maimaitiali, Indian boxer Vijender Singh displayed remarkable sportsmanship and solidarity last weekend when he offered to return the WBO Oriental super middleweight belt to his Chinese opponent as a gesture of peace. Their two nations are currently locked in a territorial dispute over a region in the Himalayas, but Singh told the arena he was returning the title to Maimaitiali as 'a message of peace.’
In Toronto, a police officer bought a shirt and tie for a shoplifter he was called to arrest. Constable Niran Jeyanesan realised when he arrived at the Walmart outlet that the 18-year-old had been attempting to steal the items for a job interview, so he decided to release him and buy the clothes for him instead. Speaking to a local news station, Jeyanesan explained that the young man 'has been facing his own difficulties in life and he was looking to straighten out all that by providing for his family and trying to get a job.’ The officer's actions have been widely praised online and backed by his staff sergeant.
In Ireland, another police officer demonstrated a different shade of heroism by jumping into a fast-flowing river to save the life of a drowning man. Garda Stephen Fahy, along with local passer-by Adam McGoldrick, saw the man struggling for air after diving fully-clothed into the freezing water, but both went in after him and dragged him to safety. The man was taken to Sligo University hospital and treated for hypothermia but luckily there were no fatalities.
No feel-good news bulletin would be complete without a dose of adorable animals. Grecian rescue pup Aragorn was recently on a walk in Ymittos with his owner when he sniffed out four black and white kittens who had been abandoned in a box on the mountain. Aragorn immediately assumed the unlikely role of foster dad, keeping a watchful eye over his new litter and showering them with love and attention. The kittens are all healthy, happy and available for adoption.