Douglas Ross accuses SNP of Trump tactics as iPad expenses MSP suspended

Michael Matheson has been suspended from the Scottish Parliament <i>(Image: PA)</i>
Michael Matheson has been suspended from the Scottish Parliament (Image: PA)

DOUGLAS Ross accused John Swinney of using Donald Trump-style tactics as Holyrood voted to suspend an MSP who ran up an £11,000 data roaming bill on his iPad while on holiday.

Former SNP minister Michael Matheson has been ejected from the Scottish Parliament for 27 sitting days and had his pay docked for 54 days after a vote on Wednesday afternoon.

It is the harshest sanction ever handed down by the Scottish Parliament to one of its members.

The National: Douglas Ross
The National: Douglas Ross

In the debate which preceded the vote, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross (above) accused the First Minister of employing “bully boy” tactics against a member of the committee which investigated Matheson.

Witch hunt?

He compared the SNP leader with former US president Trump (below), who has often claimed the multiple criminal charges he is facing in the US are part of a “witch hunt”.

The National: Donald Trump
The National: Donald Trump

The SNP claimed the investigation into Matheson’s conduct was tainted because Annie Wells, a Tory member of Parliament’s Standards Committee, had previously tweeted that she thought the SNP MSP was guilty and should be punished.

They claimed this was contrary to his right to a fair hearing and said the process had been prejudiced.

And they highlighted that Stephen Kerr, another Tory member of the committee, had quit the committee for the same reason.

READ MORE: Was ITV right to exclude the SNP from election debate? Have your say

Speaking in the Holyrood chamber on Wednesday, Ross launched the attack on his SNP rivals.

He said: “I want to put on record that the actions of John Swinney, the actions of the First Minister, towards my colleague Annie Wells [below], would make Donald Trump blush.

The National:
The National:

“It is disgusting and disgraceful behaviour that demeans the office of First Minister because he has targeted members of an independent committee in this Parliament and is attempting to undermine due process with his bully boy tactics.”

Sanctions backed

The SNP did not back the Labour motion which successfully pushed for the sanctions, but voted for their amendment which questioned the fairness of Matheson’s hearing.

In a statement released after the vote, Matheson said he was sorry but vowed to continue as an MSP, despite the Tories’ calls for him to quit.

The SNP’s backing of their man drew comparisons with Boris Johnson, with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accusing them of going “after the referee”.

READ MORE: First TV debate of election announced – with major snub for SNP

Johnson had described a Westminster Privileges Committee investigation into his conduct during the partygate scandal as “manifestly unfair”, while his supporters claimed he was being tried by a “kangaroo court”.

The National: Kate Forbes
The National: Kate Forbes

Speaking for the SNP in the debate, Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes (above) said she agreed Matheson should be “proportionately sanctioned” and pointed out the other damage suffered by the MSP.

She said: “Michael Matheson has paid back the roaming costs and there’s been no cost to the public purse.

“His actions have had consequences – he has lost his Cabinet position despite being one of the longest serving ministers of this Parliament.

“He’s faced considerable reputational damage and significant intrusion in his personal life.”

SNP concerns

But Forbes stressed the SNP’s concerns with the process and said there was a “fundamental principle of natural justice at stake here”.

MSPs should take seriously those concerns, she said, adding: “To dismiss them now will have serious consequences for members who, in the future, may themselves be the subject of the committee’s investigation.”

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Ross in his remarks also hit out at what he said were the SNP’s attempts to cover up for Matheson while he was still a minister when the story broke.

He said: “This is not a harmless mistake that some have attempted to present.

“This was a deliberate and shameless attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of this Parliament and the public.”

Opposition MSPs also argued during the debate that Alasdair Allan and Jackie Dunbar, the SNP members of the committee, had not public raised concerns about Wells’s potential bias affecting the investigation.

Allan and Dunbar both claimed they had raised these concerns privately with Standards Committee convenor Martin Whitfield. He did not comment in the debate on either claim.

Matheson had previously held a number of top Cabinet jobs, culminating as health secretary before he was felled by the expenses affair.

Late last year, he was revealed to have racked up an almost £11,000 data roaming bill on his parliamentary iPad by allowing his sons to watch football games on it while the family were on holiday in Morrocco.

He had initially claimed the entirety through expenses though has since repaid it in full.

Matheson had claimed he was carrying out constituency work while abroad, with then-first minister Humza Yousaf defending this as a “legitimate parliamentary expense”.

The issue has coloured the initial days of the SNP's General Election campaign.

Speaking on the campaign trail on Wednesday, Swinney said it was right for Matheson to continue as the MSP for Falkirk West.

READ MORE: 'Historic': John Swinney opens Levenmouth rail link

The First Minister said: "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 about the impact on the SNP's election campaign, Swinney 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.”