Timeline: The iPad data roaming row that brought down Michael Matheson

Health secretary quits ahead of inquiry findings into how he racked up a huge £11,000 bill while on holiday with his family in Morocco.

Michael Matheson went on holiday with his family for a brief respite from the trials and tribulations of life as a Scottish Government minister.

But during his trip to Morocco over Christmas 2022, the usage of his parliamentary iPad was to prove his political downfall.

Matheson, who was the net zero, energy and transport secretary at the time the charges were incurred, filed an eye-watering expenses claim of almost £11,000 for roaming charges he incurred while in north Africa.

Opposition political parties accused Matheson, now the health secretary, of lying over his explanations about how the large data usage occurred.

He eventually admitted to MSPs in a tearful address at Holyrood that his sons had used the device’s hotspot to watch football.

Matheson has been awaiting the findings of a Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) investigation into his iPad bill, but on Thursday he pre-empted the outcome and resigned from government.

STV News takes a look at how the iPad scandal unfolded.

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How did the scandal initially come about?

The Telegraph newspaper reported on November 8 that Matheson took his parliamentary iPad with him to Morocco and racked up £11,000 in roaming fees.

It said Matheson used the iPad so much during his stay without connecting to a Wifi network that the Scottish Parliament was hit with a bill of £10,935.74 – including more than £7,000 in one day – as a result of an out of date sim card.

There is a requirement to notify the Scottish Parliament’s IT office before travelling abroad and outwith Europe so that the appropriate roaming package can be applied.

But Matheson failed to do so and, with no cap on data charges, the health secretary was charged additional fees.

Following a failed challenge over the bill to provider EE, Matheson initially agreed to pay £3,000 from his own expenses and the remaining balance was paid by his office – all of which is funded by taxpayers.

But following press reports about the bill, he said he would cover the full cost personally.

Why were there such extreme additional roaming charges?

Matheson failed to update his old EE SIM card to Vodafone.

STV News revealed that the SNP minister was asked to change to Holyrood’s new provider several times up to a year before his holiday.

As well as not putting his new Vodafone SIM in, he also failed to tell the Scottish Parliament he was going abroad – which they required MSPs to do so that the appropriate roaming package can be applied.

This means that Matheson’s usage would have gone to EE’s default tariff for being in Morocco.

As the device was issued by the Scottish Parliament, officials at Holyrood challenged the fee but EE declined to waive it.

What was Matheson’s original explanation for the large bill?

Matheson insisted the data use was for parliamentary business and said he will contribute £3,000 towards the bill from his expenses budget

Speaking to reporters on November 13, he said parliamentary authorities had already looked at the data after facing calls to hand over his device.

He also maintained then he would not resign from his position despite coming under increasing pressure.

The Scottish Conservatives called for the Scottish Parliament’s IT department to examine the device so it can be verified that the bill relates “solely to parliamentary and constituency-related work”.

Tearful apology

Matheson made a personal statement to MSPs on November 16 a week after a row erupted about the charges.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament, he revealed how his teenage sons used his Holyrood-issued iPad to watch football matches while in Morocco.

Having initially insisted he had been using the device for parliamentary work during the trip, Matheson apologised and said he had been trying to protect his family.

He said: “I can see now that it just isn’t possible to explain the data usage without explaining their role.”

He told MSPs it was only when he returned home, after the row about the data bill had erupted, that he was “made aware by my wife that other members of our family had made use of the iPad’s data” while on the holiday.

Matheson insisted: “This was the first I knew that the data had been used by anyone else.

“I had previously checked this but the truth only emerged after this story was in the news.”

Matheson referred himself to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body so it can investigate the matter.

But First Minister Humza Yousaf insisted that he had “absolute confidence” in his health secretary.

Did Scots think Matheson should quit?

A poll published on November 29 suggested 61% of Scots think Matheson should resign over the issue.

The Ipsos poll for STV News also found a majority of SNP voters believe he should quit.

Ipsos found 61% believe Matheson should go, while 31% feel he should stay on as health secretary.

A total of 1,004 Scottish adults were polled between November 20 and 26.

Among 2021 SNP voters, 52% said he should resign and 44% said he should stay.

When is the probe due to conclude?

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) is investigating, and minutes of its meeting last week, published on December 7, show the cross-party body has said it will likely be in a position to provide Matheson with the findings of its report in January.

The minutes said: “The corporate body noted that a robust process and timeline would ensure fairness and help mitigate potential challenge to the SPCB.

“The initial statement of provisional findings would likely be provided to the member in January 2024, but the SPCB agreed that work should continue at pace.

“The SPCB agreed the final report would be published.”

It is not clear when the final report will be released, but the minutes also said Matheson is expected to have up to two weeks to respond to the initial findings before the investigation is concluded.

Matheson quits ahead of inquiry findings

Matheson resigned as health secretary on Thursday ahead of the SPCB report’s publication.

He said: “I am conscious that this process will conclude in the coming weeks.

“I have still not received the findings of their review, however, it is in the best interest of myself and the Government for me to now step down to ensure this does not become a distraction to taking forward the Government’s agenda.”

Following his resignation, Yousaf said it is right Matheson steps aside to avoid the issue becoming a “distraction”.

The First Minister said: “It is right that, having requested that the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body review your data roaming charges from last year, that you fully engage with that process as it comes to its conclusion.

“I agree that it is therefore best for you to now step down to ensure you are able to give the parliamentary process the attention it deserves without it becoming a distraction to taking forward the Government’s agenda.”

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