SNP will not back parliament ban for Matheson over £11,000 iPad bill

Former health secretary faces a record ban from Holyrood over an £11,000 bill racked up on his parliamentary iPad while on holiday.

Key Points
  • MSPs to vote on whether Michael Matheson should be barred from Holyrood for 27 sitting days
  • Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Scottish Greens set to back motion
  • First Minister John Swinney said he would not support the sanction, but an SNP motion at Parliament now backs it
  • SNP MSPs will vote in favour of their amendment but will abstain on the actual motion – even if it is amended
  • Matheson attempted to use expenses to cover a near-£11,000 data roaming bill racked up on his parliamentary iPad
  • He later admitted the costs were incurred by his children, who were using the device as a hotspot to watch football

The SNP will not support a Holyrood ban for Michael Matheson over an £11,000 bill he racked up on his parliamentary iPad.

MSPs will decide on Wednesday if they agree with the Standards Committee recommendation that the former health secretary should be barred from Holyrood for 27 sitting days and lose his salary for 54.

If the motion carries, it would be the longest suspension and biggest fine ever handed down to an MSP.

Matheson, who quit the cabinet in February, was found to have breached the code of conduct for MSPs by racking up the huge roaming bill while on holiday in Morocco, which later he said was caused by his children watching football.

Initially, the Falkirk West MSP had attempted to use a combination of his office costs and expenses to cover the bill, but he later said he would pay it himself after the issue was made public.

Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem and Scottish Green MSPs are expected to back the motion calling for sanctions to be imposed on Matheson.

First Minister John Swinney previously said he would not back sanctions against Matheson. The SNP then lodged an amendment that outlines concerns about the complaints process but ultimately accepts the standards committee’s recommendations.

STV News understands SNP MSPs will vote in favour of their amendment but will abstain on the actual motion – even if it is amended.

Swinney told Sky News on a General Election campaign visit on Wednesday: “I never at any stage suggested that I would bring forward an alternative proposition. What I expressed was concerns about a process which I think brings Parliament into disrepute.

“In no other walk of life would it be tolerable for somebody on a disciplinary panel to prejudge a case.

“It just wouldn’t be allowed in any other walk of life, and I think the Scottish Parliament has got itself into a really tricky situation by doing that.

“Parliament will sort these things out and it will decide its position and obviously I’ll accept what Parliament decides.”

Following the Holyrood debate and vote on the committee’s recommended sanctions, the Tories will then force a vote on Matheson’s future, calling for him to resign.

It is unlikely the motion will pass, however, with the Scottish Greens not expected to support it and party MSP Ross Greer describing it as “cynical”.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “Public trust in MSPs is on the line in today’s vote – and it will be destroyed if SNP and Greens MSPs do a dodgy deal to save Michael Matheson’s skin.

“Michael Matheson outrageously billed the taxpayer £11,000 for roaming charges he racked up while on holiday. He then repeatedly misled the public and Parliament to cover his tracks and only paid back the money when he was rumbled.

“Michael Matheson would have been sacked in any other walk of life for what he did. That is why opinion polls show the vast majority believe he has to go.

“The public will be incandescent with rage with every MSP who fails to back this motion because those politicians will effectively be saying, ‘normal rules don’t apply to us – we’re better than you’.

“MSPs must vote for our motion to tell Michael Matheson he must finally do the decent thing and quit.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused the SNP of “putting their party interests before the good of the country”.

He added: “John Swinney and the SNP are using the Boris Johnson and Conservative Party playbook – putting personal relationships before the integrity of Parliament.

“John Swinney is trying to defend the indefensible by backing Matheson, who was found to have attempted to misuse £11,000 of public money.

“It’s completely and utterly unacceptable.”

He said Labour is “dedicated to cleaning up politics”, including by introducing a Bill that would include a recall process to sack suspended MSPs.

A spokesman for the SNP Holyrood group said: “The procedures of the Parliament must be beyond reproach – not open to bias, prejudice and political motivation.

“There is a need for a review of the complaints process to restore integrity and confidence in the Parliament and its procedures to ensure we are never again in a position where politics is put before process and prejudice is put before Parliament.”

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