Ross forced to apologise in Holyrood as Swinney pressed over Matheson support

SNP MSPs refused to vote for sanctions recommended against the former minister after he attempted to use public funds to cover a data roaming bill.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was forced to apologise to the First Minister as he challenged John Swinney over the SNP’s failure to vote for sanctions to be imposed on “disgraced” former health secretary Michael Matheson.

Holyrood voted on Wednesday to impose a 27-day suspension after Mr Matheson attempted to use public funds to cover the cost of an #11,000 data roaming bill racked up on his Parliament iPad during a family holiday, but SNP MSPs refused to vote for the sanction and abstained.

Mr Ross challenged Mr Swinney on the issue during First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood on Thursday – the day Mr Matheson began his suspension.

Mr Ross asked: “How can John Swinney keep his own integrity if he backs a man who has none?”
He questioned the SNP leader’s “personal handling of this scandal”.

But he interrupted the First Minister as Mr Swinney pointed out to MSPs the sanctions motion had been amended to reflect his party’s concerns that the process had been prejudiced.

The SNP amendment argued a Conservative MSP on Holyrood’s standards committee had spoken out publicly against Mr Matheson, and it declared the process was therefore “open to bias” and could even bring “the Parliament into disrepute”.

Mr Swinney said the concerns he had raised about this had “now been endorsed by the democratic national Parliament of Scotland”, but he was interrupted by Mr Ross.

That brought a rebuke from Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone, who told Mr Ross to apologise – adding she would be “extremely frustrated and disappointed” if the interruptions continued.

After Mr Ross apologised, the First Minister told MSPs he “accepted the conclusions of the Parliament” – which also agreed that Mr Matheson should lose his wages for 54 days.

Mr Swinney then turned on the Tory, hitting out at the “volume of personal abuse that he pours”.
Speaking about Mr Ross, he added: “He cannot do anything other than resort to nasty personal abuse. That’s what Mr Ross contributes to this Parliament.”

Mr Ross earlier highlighted that Mr Swinney had previously called for then first minister Henry McLeish to resign “for the good of the Scottish Parliament” after he was forced to repay expenses during his time in power.

The Conservative leader said: “When it doesn’t involve someone in the SNP, John Swinney tries to talk like a man of integrity, he demands resignations, he speaks of trust, he preaches about honesty.

“But now it is his SNP friend, he abandons the principles he once had.”

Mr Swinney however recalled that in 2018, Scottish Tory MSPs had voted against a sanction being imposed on one of their group at Holyrood.

As a result, he insisted: “Mr Ross has got absolutely no credibility whatsoever to come here and suggest my conduct or my actions have been in any way inappropriate here.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar also hit out at Mr Swinney over his actions regarding Mr Matheson, saying: “Rather than defending Scots and protecting the integrity of Parliament, John Swinney chose to put his party before the country.”

He added: “Had this been at Westminster, Michael Matheson would now be facing a recall petition and potentially a by-election.

“But yet again the SNP hold Scotland to a lower standard, and believe it’s one rule for them and one rule for everyone else.”

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code