Tories to try force iPad MSP to resign as FM says suspension is 'prejudiced'

Former health secretary Michael Matheson tried to use expenses to cover a near-£11,000 data roaming bill racked up on a parliamentary iPad during a family holiday to Morocco.

The Scottish Tories will seek to force former health secretary Michael Matheson to resign while First Minister John Swinney has said the process against him was “prejudiced”.

The SNP MSP was found to have breached the code of conduct for MSPs by attempting to use expenses and office costs to cover a near-£11,000 data roaming bill racked up on a parliamentary device.

The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee said he should be suspended for 27 sitting days and have his salary withdrawn for 54 days. It will now be subject to a vote in the Parliament.

Swinney said the process had been “prejudiced” due to public comments made by members of the committee.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Swinney pointed to comments made by Tory MSP Annie Wells – a member of the Committee – last year, adding that he would not be supporting the recommendation made on Thursday.

The First Minister also referred to Matheson as a “friend and colleague” who has “made mistakes”.

“Annie Wells said that Michael Matheson’s, and I quote, ‘desperate efforts to justify his outrageous expenses claim have been riddled with lies, cover-ups and the need for us all to suspend our disbelief,’” the First Minister said.

Swinney added that if a constituent was facing disciplinary action at work and their employer made similar comments, he would “come down on that employer like a tonne of bricks”.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross hit out at the First Minister’s description of the process and accused Matheson of “deceit and abuse of trust” in the scandal over his near-£11,000 data roaming bill.

“That is incredible and indefensible by the First Minister,” Ross said of Swinney’s backing of his MSP.

“He told us when asking for our support to make him First Minister, he would be First Minister for all of Scotland.

“What Scotland is seeing is he’s a First Minister that backs his pals.”

How did we get here?

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.

When it was revealed that Matheson had tried to claim the huge bill from taxpayers he announced he would cover the costs himself.

But the former minister initially denied there had been any inappropriate use of the device, when asked by journalists.

Opposition political parties accused the then-health secretary of lying over his explanations about how the large data usage occurred.

Eventually, in a tearful address, Matheson revealed the bill had been as a result of his children using the device as a wifi hotspot to watch football during a holiday in Morocco.

Health secretary Michael Matheson eventually admitted to MSPs in a tearful address at Holyrood that his sons had used the device’s hotspot to watch football.Getty Images

After months of revelations, Matheson stood down as health secretary in February.

Announcing the outcome of the probe, committee convener Martin Whitfield said the findings of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), which investigated Matheson, showed the standards expected of MSPs “have not been met”.

“The unanimous view of the committee is that it is therefore appropriate to recommend sanctions for consideration by Parliament,” he said.

Committee members were unanimous, the convener said, in the decision to recommend a financial penalty, as well as the amount of salary that should be withheld.

But SNP MSPs Jackie Dunbar and Alasdair Allan did not agree with Tory members Annie Wells and Oliver Mundell that the suspension should be for 27 days, with the convener casting the deciding vote.

The longest ban dished out to MSPs by Holyrood authorities is one month, which was given to SNP MSP Mark McDonald as a result of a probe into allegations of sexual harassment, and to four Scottish Socialist Party MSPs who were punished for a protest they held in the chamber during First Minister’s Questions.

Pressure on Matheson’s position as an MSP is likely to mount, but the Scottish Parliament does not have a method of effectively sacking a member in the way Westminster does.

South of the border, a suspension of ten sitting days is enough to spark a recall petition, which allows constituents to remove an MP if 10% sign the document.

This was most recently used in Rutherglen and Hamilton West following the breach of Covid regulations by former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier and resulted in Labour taking the seat with a massive swing.

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