Matheson handed record Holyrood ban over £11,000 iPad scandal

Former health secretary to be barred from the Scottish Parliament for 27 sitting days and will also have his salary stripped.

Michael Matheson has been handed the longest-ever suspension from Holyrood over an £11,000 bill he racked up on his parliamentary iPad.

The former health secretary will be barred from the Scottish Parliament for 27 sitting days and will also lose his salary for 54 days after MSPs voted in favour of a ban.

A majority of MSPs agreed with the Standards Committee’s recommendation that Matheson should face sanctions for attempting to use expenses to cover the huge bill he received after a family holiday to Morocco.

Matheson later admitted the costs were incurred by his children, who were using the device as a hotspot to watch football.

The suspension takes effect from Thursday, after 64 MSPs voted to back the recommendations of the Standards Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, while none voted against and 63 abstained.

An SNP amendment which chided Tory member of the committee Annie Wells for comments she made about Matheson before she voted on the issue was passed by 68 votes to 56 with two abstentions.

The amendment also called for an “independent review” of the complaints process in Holyrood.

In scenes Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said were “bizarre in the extreme”, the SNP voted for the amendment, but then abstained when it came to voting on the amended motion.

Moments after the vote, Matheson released a statement that read: “I apologise and regret that this situation occurred. I acknowledge and accept the decision of Parliament.

“I also note that Parliament has called for the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body to carry out an independent review of the Parliament’s complaints process to restore integrity and confidence in the Parliament and its procedures, which I hope will be progressed.

“I look forward to continuing to represent the people of Falkirk West, as I have done for many years.”

Prior to the vote, First Minister John Swinney said the Scottish Parliament had got itself into a “really tricky situation” over its recommended suspension for Matheson.

He said Wells had tainted the process through comments she made last year in which she described Matheson’s explanation for the bill as being “riddled with lies”.

The convener of the committee that recommended Matheson be banned from Holyrood for 27 days said he will “reflect generally” on the complaints process.

Speaking during a debate on the sanctions in Holyrood, Martin Whitfield said: “These reflections do not evidence any concern we have that the process followed up to this point was not adequate or correct.”

Tory MSP Stephen Kerr accused the Scottish Government of a “vindictive” attack on Wells.

Intervening during a speech by Kate Forbes, Kerr – who recused himself from the committee earlier this year claiming he would not be able to be impartial – said: “This amendment is nothing but an attack on the integrity of a member of this Parliament.”

He added: “With what Kate Forbes has been through over the last year does she not recognise that this is an attack on an honourable member and is motivated by vindictive purposes?”

Forbes stressed that her remarks related to the principle of the issue rather than Wells and went on to urge the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to review the complaints process in Holyrood to “restore integrity in confidence”.

Later on Wednesday, the Scottish Tories failed to pass a motion calling for Matheson to resign.

MSPs voted by 68 votes to 55 against the move, instead passing a Green amendment which removed the majority of the Tory motion and called for reform of the process for considering sanctions for MSPs as well as another from Scottish Labour calling for a process to recall MSPs.

Ross said that while Matheson is facing suspension and a loss of wages, “any other Scot would have been handed their P45 straight away”.

He said: “If someone is found to have falsely claimed £11,000 from their employer, in this case the taxpayer, then they lied about it as part of a cover-up, they would have been sacked.”

He insisted the former health secretary’s actions were not a “harmless mistake”, saying he had made a “deliberate and shameless attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of this Parliament and the public”.

But Swinney said he did not think the former health secretary should resign as an MSP, telling journalists in Holyrood: “He made a mistake and has been given a punishment by Parliament which I accept unreservedly.

“Michael should accept that punishment and continue to serve the people that sent him here.”

He added: “Parliament has accepted this is appropriate and I accept what Parliament has said.”

Asked if he thought it was a difficult start to his party’s General Election campaign, he said: “You just have to play the ball as it lands. This wasn’t part of my campaign plan. But the issue has arisen and I have as First Minister and leader of the SNP, I have to deal with what emerges in front of me.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am if I just said ‘OK, let’s have a flawed process. Let’s turn a blind eye. That’s not John Swinney and I’m not going to start doing that now.”

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