Mark McDonald: Investigation against me led to mental crash

The former SNP minister was found to have sent inappropriate texts to a Holyrood staffer.

Former childcare minister Mark McDonald has said the sexual misconduct investigation against him took too long and led him to consider taking his own life.

The independent MSP, who announced last week he would not be standing in the 2021 election, was ultimately found to have sexually harassed a woman by sending her inappropriate messages.

But he said the length of the complaints process and the lack of information he was given contributed to him having a “significant mental crash”.

McDonald was forced to quit the cabinet and was suspended from the SNP after misconduct claims first surfaced in November 2017.

The Aberdeen Donside MSP faced several calls to resign from parliament, including from his former party leader Nicola Sturgeon, but returned to work the following March.

Speaking to STV News, McDonald said he had had “minimal contact” with the First Minister since the claims first emerged, but added that others in the SNP hierarchy who he assumed “had his best interests at heart” gave him advice to stay under the radar during the process.

He said: “I was advised by some in the party to not respond to requests for comment or interview; I was advised by some not to answer questions around what the exact nature of the issues I was apologising for was.

“I was advised to keep my head down and not be publicly visible and all of this time I assumed that was the party advising me in order that I could then make some form of return and move forward from there.

“I now look back and think that probably wasn’t actually what the intention was, and that there was a decision made fairly early on that my coming back to the party was never going to happen.”

In June 2018, the parliamentary watchdog ruled McDonald had sexually harassed an employee of fellow MSP James Dornan by sending inappropriate social media messages, one of which referenced a sex act.

It further found he had failed to treat a second witness with respect “over a financial matter”, and suspended him from Holyrood for a month without pay.

But the commissioner for ethical standards in public life also cleared the MSP of some of the complaints against him, and criticised Dornan for sharing details of his complaint with the media.

‘I wrote a note, and if my wife hadn’t woken up when she did, I’m not entirely sure how the story would have ended. But she did and I’m here.’

Mark McDonald MSP

McDonald said: “The length of time that process took, and the lack of information that I was provided about what that process would entail, about even what the allegations against me were, had a significant impact upon me.

“That’s not to diminish or to cast aside the fact that other people were upset in this process as a result of my behaviour.

“I’ve never sought or tried to downplay that and I don’t want this to come across in any way that I am doing that.

“Individuals who make mistakes should face the appropriate sanction for those mistakes – I faced sanction for those mistakes – but they should also be allowed to atone and not be defined solely by those mistakes.”

He confirmed he had apologised to the woman he was found to have sexually harassed, and said the reason he had chosen to come back to Holyrood in 2018 was to show “those close to me that it was possible to atone for mistakes that you make, to redeem yourself”.

After announcing he will stand down ahead of next May’s Holyrood election, McDonald said his decision to speak out now is not politically-motivated nor a plea for sympathy.

“If that was the case I would have spoken about this two years ago when I came back to parliament,” he added.

“I had a very significant mental crash as a result of initially what I perceived as a process that had presented me in a way that I didn’t feel was an accurate reflection of who I am as an individual.

“It pushed me very close to doing something profoundly regrettable. I didn’t go there but I very nearly did.

“And throughout the process I was in a very dark and difficult place… my family were very concerned with my wellbeing.”

The Aberdeen Donside MSP added: “I wrote a note, and if my wife hadn’t woken up when she did, I’m not entirely sure how the story would have ended. But she did and I’m here.”

The former minister expressed frustration at not being able to respond to “salacious” media coverage while the probe against him was ongoing.

McDonald said: “When I look back now and think about the way my return to parliament was reported, as though I was breezing back into parliament all brass neck, brazen and without a care for anybody else.

“Two days previous to that I was sitting in Cornhill Hospital in Aberdeen being assessed as to whether or not I needed to be admitted for my own personal safety.”

The MSP said he had felt “hypocritical” championing issues around mental health in parliament while not opening up about his own.

He told STV: “Part of that was because when you’ve been in the situation I’ve been in, you feel like people will think you’ve deserved it, that somehow this is just the price you have to pay.

“I would hope that’s not where we are as a society but I guess we’ll find that out.”

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