Michelle Thomson Interview: ''No' To Scottish Independence May Have Won The Battle But They Have Lost The War"

SNP's Michelle Thomson On Independence: 'Once You Start That Process, You Don't Stop'
Michelle Thomson, far right, with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon

The 2015 General Election saw 176 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, The Huffington Post UK is speaking to 15 MPs from the 2015 intake of the Conservatives, Labour and SNP. This week, it's the SNP MP Michelle Thomson ...

A common denominator among the fresh intake of 56 Scottish National Party MPs at Westminster is that they not "professional politicians".

Take Michelle Thomson. A classical musician by training, Thomson fronted the Business for Scotland campaign group that argued the country's economy could stand on its own two feet at during the independence campaign. The 'Yes' defeat was the spur to stand for the SNP at the general election, and she was elected to represent Edinburgh West on the back of the party's landslide.

Now the party's business spokesman, the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama graduate (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) left behind the "famine or feast" of life as a working musician more than 20 years ago, moving into IT as the two worlds collided.

She had been running a property business when politics came calling, and her argument that small countries can be the most prosperous will be central when the case is renewed for Scotland to go it alone.

Here is Michelle Thomson's 15 from '15:

1) Where were you born and raised?

I was born in a small town outside Glasgow called Bearsden.

2) What did you want to be when you were a child?

It wasn't so much what I wanted to be. It was what type of thing I wanted to do.

At school, they had the belt, or the "tawse", and they hit you on the hand with it if you were naughty. When I was 10 I asked the teacher why the Queen had so many houses when other people had none at all. The teacher, for my troubles, took me out and belted me. I remember at the time thinking I don't want to be be told how to think.

I toyed with the idea of being a lawyer, or being a doctor. I always did music. I wanted to be able to use my brain, where I could function at a high level, and, in effect, where I could question quite a lot.

3) When did you first become interested in politics?

School debating society. The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama didn't have anything like that. I was fully immersed in music. I was always politically aware, but never politically active.

In common with so many others, I got involved during the referendum. I was involved in a group called Business for Scotland that sought to look at the opportunity case of independence.

People were quite rightly questioning the risks of Scotland becoming independent, but equally so you must also look at the opportunities. Scotland has huge assets. If you look at the successful countries of the world they are not the huge countries. Three million to ten million population size. Productivity is much higher. They have better lifestyles.

I became managing director and it was the first time I had been involved in anything like that.

Michelle Thomson, second from right, campaigning for an independent Scotland as Business for Scotland managing director with Alex Salmond and business leaders

4) Do you have any political heroes?

I greatly admire Nicola Sturgeon. Only based on the short time I have got involved, but I get the sense it's even harder for female politicians. For women in politics it seems to be fair game to talk about the way you look, your haircut and what you wear. Why that is relevant I do not know.

She has differentiated herself as a thought leader across the world. She led the field in the general election by the calm, common sense and brave stance she took, particularly around the anti-austerity message. What you see in public is what you see behind the scenes: she is thoughtful, makes the right decision for the right reasons.

Mary Barbour in 1915 led rent strikes in Glasgow. She had to be brave about making a decision. Rents were being hiked while men were away at war. Going against the grain, being a rallying cry, and as a woman? Remarkable.

What is leadership about? It's about shaping positive change, that has to be the quiet kingmaker as well as people who have gone off to the war. Mary Balfour changed people's lives. What she did led to legislation extended across the UK.

Nicola Sturgeon is "thoughtful, makes the right decision for the right reasons"

5) When did you first stand for election?

This time. I had considered if it was a 'No' vote I would stand. I thought it was important to stand up and be counted. I only decided at the tail-end of 2014, was only selected in January for the election in May. I doubt I would have stood if it was a 'Yes' vote.

Something truly special happened in Scotland through the course of the referendum. Because it was such a positive choice, people had the opportunity to stop, think and reflect. The question was more 'what kind of society would you like it to be'. We could change so many things that had been accepted as the status quo.

Scotland is on a path of change that is unassailable. People have opened a door to an opportunity to create something better for themselves and their children. Once you start that process, you don't stop. You keep going.

My seat is relatively affluent. The tradition is to think we took all the Labour seats. I took a Liberal Democrat seat. We could almost be the national party of Scotland - when you've got affluent areas like mine voting SNP, the same as the East End of Glasgow, something truly special has happened.

The 'No' campaign may well have won the battle but I suspect they have lost the war. They have broken a trust with the Scottish people. Even people who ultimately voted 'No' after some serious soul-searching understand that the 'No' campaign were being disingenuous about Scotland's potential.

Do I think Scotland will become independent? Yes I do. When? I do not know.

6) What did you do for a living before becoming an MP?

Music is my passion. I auditioned in secret for what was the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, it's now the Conservatoire of Scotland. My father wanted me doing a safe job, so I auditioned in secret because I always wanted to do more and be more. I don't regret doing it as a degree. I am one for those people who always has a happy tune running through their head. I worked as a musician for six years after I left, and I always have played. I played piano and clarinet.

I trained as a classical pianist and ended up becoming a musical director in a theatre with responsibility for conducting bands or orchestras, and writing the music for the rep company show. We did pantomime, youth theatre, rep company shows.

This was the early days of IT and I used IT equipment to write music. It was 'woah' at the time. Instead of old-fashioned manuscripts and writing down the dots. Music is a feast or a famine. Most people are jobbing musicians and they struggle their way along. I went and did a masters in IT as a result of using it to write music.

I started off doing computer programming and project management, eventually running large IT projects. That was over 23 years mostly in financial services. I set up my own business in around 2009 in property. I love going into something you don't know a lot about and getting up to a level of competence as quickly as possible. I suppose some people would say that's an entrepreneur's trait.

7) What do you do to relax?

I love all types of music from heavy rock to jazz. Funk, soul, but mostly classical. It takes me beyond myself and I give it my full focus and concentration. But there's music for everybody and I'm not a snob about it.

I love reading as well. The God Of Small Things by Arundhati Roy - a book about twins in India. The bit I loved about it was the minutiae of observations about human behaviour. The sights, sounds, smells when the family go to the cinema. I like things that take me out of myself.

8) If you could run any Government department, which would it be?

In the UK it would be Business, Innovation and Skills. In Scotland it would be Culture.

It's not just the dry bits about running a business and the bottom line. To create true innovation you need to think differently, to be prepared to take a risk. Through innovation we can get more growth and countries like Scotland can lead the way by thinking differently.

It's vital children are given access to a medium for self-expression. The tendency in recessionary times is that is seen as an indulgence rather than a necessity. The evidence for learning a musical instrument is it helps the brain develop. That should always be protected.

9) What is your favourite film?

I like films that make me laugh. Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The bit that makes me laugh still is the bit of him going the wrong way down the motorway. It's a human story that has some pathos. I like Meet the Fockers. Some Like It Hot, things that you can watch again and find new things to laugh at.

Steve Martin and John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles

10)What is your favourite band/artist?

I was in a workshop and they asked what had been our favourite concert. I thought: 'This is not going to be good.'

My all time-favourite thing is Alexander Nevsky conducted by Yuri Temirkanov with the St Petersburg Philharmonic in Paris, which I sung in with the Edinburgh Festival Chorus. I'm just being dead honest! It makes me sound like a musical egg-head, which I'm not.

I've got lots of favourite bands, but bands for me is the Leningrad Philharmonic.

Yuri Temirkanov leading the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra

11) What is the best thing about the House of Commons?

The architecture is sublime. I hope to keep pinching myself every day when I walk through Central Lobby and say 'this is amazing'. The staff have been excellent in welcoming us. Talk about going the extra mile. I really enjoy working with constituents. I love meeting people, all the different views. That's very healthy - the wonderful expression of my constituency.

12) What is the worst thing about the House of Commons?

I find it rather insular. It must have relevance. People must see the legislator and see their own faces and hear their own voices in it. I don't believe that is the case enough. As for the House of Lords? It doesn't make sense. The diversity is very limited.

We've got a Government today that was elected by around 36% of the UK. They only have one MP in Scotland yet they are making decisions. So First Past The Post is definitely something I would change.

13) What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could?

The UK needs to look at the best of what is going on elsewhere in the world. Dining out on what it was brings risks.

The productivity of the UK is very low. The highest levels of productivity are in medium-sized countries, yet the UK has been comparing itself against the G7. The G7 isn't very good in terms of productivity either. They need to be comparing themselves against what I've called the M8. Some of the medium-sized countries are light years ahead.

14) What one reason would you give someone to visit your constituency?

It's easy to sell. It extends from South Queensferry which has the iconic bridge and then travels past the site of the Royal Highland Show, past Murrayfield, into the West End and Haymarket station. South Queensferry's a beautiful, beautiful place. There's lots or urban areas and some areas where it's harder for people. It's a microcosm of Scottish society.


The home of Scottish rugby

15) What are the best and worst aspects of your personality?

I'm genuinely hopeful, enthusiastic, high-energy, want to make an impact. That's equally the worst bit, particularly the high-energy. For some I can be exhausting to be around.


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