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Humza Yousaf accused of backing Michael Matheson’s 'efforts to cover up' iPad roaming charge scandal

Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson
Humza Yousaf, left, defended his health secretary Michael Matheson's use of his iPad while on parliamentary business - Ken Jack/Getty Images/Ken Jack

Humza Yousaf has been accused of backing his health secretary’s “lying and efforts to cover up the roaming charges scandal” after he failed to answer key questions about why he made “false” statements to the public.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, wrote to the First Minister seeking clarification about what he knew and when about the £11,000 bill Michael Matheson racked up on holiday in Morocco.

But he described Mr Yousaf as “shifty, rattled and evasive” after receiving no explanation for the First Minister making comments to the media that contradicted what Mr Matheson had privately told him.

In particular, Mr Ross used his letter to challenge Mr Yousaf’s public statement on Nov 15 that “I absolutely take Michael at his word” that the roaming charges were incurred entirely for constituency work.

On the same day, the First Minister said Mr Matheson was a “person of integrity and character” and claimed the extraordinary bill had been run up because he had “made an honest mistake” by not replacing the Sim card in his parliamentary iPad.

Mr Matheson later admitted that he had informed Mr Yousaf on Nov 14 – the day before the First Minister made his comments – that the charges had been run up by his two teenage sons watching football.

Mr Ross asked Mr Yousaf whether he had “knowingly” made a “statement that was false” on Nov 15. But the First Minister ignored this in his reply, saying that Mr Matheson had “accepted responsibility and apologised in full”.

He argued that the “appropriate thing to do now” was to wait until the Scottish Parliament’s ruling corporate body (SPCB) had completed its investigation into the scandal.

However, Mr Ross pointed out the SPCB was only examining the circumstances around Mr Matheson charging the public purse for the extraordinary bill following his return from holiday last Christmas.

The public statements made by the health secretary and First Minister after The Telegraph uncovered the scandal on Nov 8 are not part of the inquiry’s remit.

The Scottish Tory leader said: “Humza Yousaf has made absolutely no effort to answer the key questions I raised, which shows he’s happy to support Michael Matheson’s lying and efforts to cover up of the roaming charges scandal...

“The questions were specifically to the First Minister and are issues for the Scottish Government to answer – they will not be in the scope of the Scottish Parliament investigation. But Humza Yousaf is again trying to draw a line on the issue, hoping the controversy goes away.”

Mr Ross added: “The First Minister is clearly as shifty, rattled and evasive on this scandal as the minister he inexplicably refuses to sack.”

Bill surged on days of football fixtures

Holyrood’s authorities handed Mr Matheson a breakdown of the £10,935.74 bill on Feb 7 showing the bill surged on the days of football fixtures.

But he told the parliament he had used the iPad solely for constituency matters and it allowed him to use his taxpayer-funded expenses to cover £3,000 of the bill. Holyrood funded the £7,935.74 balance from its own budget.

He only agreed to pay back the money from his own pocket on Nov 10, two days after The Telegraph disclosed the bill. His annual salary is £118,511.

In a statement to MSPs, he claimed he had only found out his sons had used the device to watch football on Nov 9 when he was informed by his wife.

However, he later told the media on Nov 13 that nobody else had used the device and there was no personal use.

The Falkirk West MSP has not explained how he thought he had run up the bill on constituency business. The roaming charges on Jan 2, the day of the Old Firm match between Rangers and Celtic, were £7,345.69 but this was a public holiday.

In his reply to Mr Ross, Mr Yousaf said that the SPCB had “decided to investigate the matter to address any remaining questions to the Parliament’s full satisfaction”.

He insisted that Mr Matheson’s “attention is quite clearly on his responsibilities as Scotland’s health secretary” rather than the scandal. The First Minister was approached for comment.