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Michelle Thomson is a Convenient “bad apple” – After All, What Else are Scapegoats for?

There’s an sense of celebration in the air amongst opponents of the SNP this week, there have been a great number of near-scandals over the past 8 years, but this time they smell blood and they’re not about to let the trail go cold. Amidst the frenzy of partisan claim and counterclaim surrounding MP Michelle Thomson, we seem to have shifted our eyes off the actual problem: this country’s fetishisation of property and property ownership.

Opponents of the SNP are too busy lighting torches and gathering pitchforks to see that the so-called scandal surrounding Michelle Thomson is little more than an everyday story of everyday property trading folk. By contrast, Ms Thomson’s supporters’ protestations that her business transactions were normal and unremarkable, fall far short of acknowledging just how rotten a situation that leaves us in.

So clouded by politics are our collective perceptions of these events, that we seem to have forgotten about the victims in all this (and I’m not talking about a few folk who may, or may not have been ripped off by Michelle Thomson).

The disappointing news for those salivating at this unfolding scandal, is that it’s very unlikely that any laws have actually been broken. But therein lies the real scandal, and why is no one talking about that? Why is no one willing to ask how widespread this sort of behaviour is? Why is no one pushing for a tightening of the law?

Because no one cares, the idea that anyone is looking to re-examine our relationship as a society with property ownership is a farce. The technical term for what is happening is simply: “get her!”

My plea to those who are currently chasing Michelle Thomson down to the river with pitchforks is this: open your eyes to the reality, our entire attitude towards property is a scandal. To those defending her (namely the SNP), I say this: you are in government, if this sort of behaviour is normal and above the law, then the law needs changed.

When house prices drop, it’s a tragedy. All that equity that property owners have built up isn’t worth as much as it was, the poor souls. Meanwhile, the rest of us – who might actually benefit from cheaper housing – are left asking “what do you mean house prices are down? A one bed flat in Edinburgh still costs about a quarter of a million?”. Yet house prices are still the central measure of how well off we are as a society.

Turn on your TV anytime during the afternoon and there’ll be some smug estate agent explaining how to buy a house and sell it on for a profit by doing not very much at all. People have built empires off the back of this type of business, and they’re held up as examples to us all. Entrepreneurs, captains of industry – you too could be the next Alan Sugar, or a “Dragon”, smugly sneering at people’s ideas from behind a stack of money. This is Thatcher’s and Blair’s Britain, and it’s rotten to the core.

The whole concept of buy-to-let is a positively Dickensian scheme anyway. For one reason or another I have never been considered mortgage material, I can’t be trusted to stump up a monthly instalment for a property, so I must rent. In other words, I must pay someone else’s mortgage. In return for this I have very few rights as a tenant, and to top it off I am punished for the value of the house through Council Tax.

How did we reach a scenario, in the 21st century, where the poorest in our society are buying rich people’s houses for them? You are not trusted to buy your own house, you must therefore buy one for somebody else?

Remember this billboard (see right) from 2007? Most people probably don’t, and it’s understandable why the SNP weren’t able to make good on that pledge during their first term of government – there’s no way they’d have succeeded with a minority of MSPs.

So why did they not bring back the policy upon winning a majority in 2011? Well, one might argue that all eyes were on the independence referendum I suppose, but what about now? Why is nobody discussing bringing the council tax to an end? It’s perhaps the most debilitating, unfair, anti-poor tax in this country’s history.

The real answer of course, is this: as soon as you earn over a certain amount of money, the council tax actually works out as a remarkably good deal. That level is certainly below the salary of an MP, MSP, or a Councillor, so it’s not going to be a particularly pressing personal concern for anyone who’s in a position to change it (regardless of party). If you own a buy-to-let property (as we’re all encouraged to), you’re not going to care that much either – as the poor sucker that’s paying your mortgage is bound by law to pick up your council tax tab too.

The law regarding property is a bit like the law regarding tax, it is all bound up in the idea that one day you too will be wealthy, and you wouldn’t want anything to stand in the way of you and your precious money would you? Except the odds are that you won’t be wealthy.

For great wealth to mean anything, there must be great poverty, and those who want that system to continue unchallenged, will be glad of distractions like Michelle Thomson. A convenient “bad apple”. After all, what else are scapegoats for?

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