John Swinney accused of putting 'SNP before Scotland' and ignoring NHS waiting lists

John Swinney has been accused of putting the SNP before Scotland by trying to protect Michael Matheson instead of focusing on issues facing the country.

The First Minister has faced a backlash from opposition parties after he described the disciplinary process against the disgraced former health secretary as "prejudiced".

Matheson had initially tried to claim an £11,000 data roaming bill racked up on his official iPad on expenses while on a family holiday.

The member for Falkirk West was eventually suspended from Holyrood this week for a record 27 days after MSPs agreed with sanctions which the SNP leader had initially opposed.

Anas Sarwar pressed Swinney again on the scandal today and accused the him of caring more about defending the former SNP minister than cutting waiting times.

The Scottish Labour leader said: "This Parliament agreed to suspend former Health Secretary Michael Matheson for attempting to misuse £11,000 of public money.

"Rather than defending Scots and protecting the integrity of parliament John Swinney chose to put his party before the country.

"Had this been at Westminster, Michael Matheson would now be facing a recall petition and potentially a by-election.

"But yet again the SNP hold Scotland to a lower standard, and believe it’s one rule for them and one rule for everyone else.

"While John Swinney spent all of his time this week managing his party and defending sleaze, waiting lists in Scotland reached a record high.

"Now over 840,000 Scots are stuck on an NHS waiting list. Why is John Swinney putting the SNP first, not Scotland?"

The First Minister insisted he was the "first to acknowledge we face challenges in the National Health Service" following the pandemic.

He added: "I’m sorry for the amount of time people are having to wait for treatment. We are reducing the longest waits, we’re making headway on that."

Sarwar said the First Minister has to “get his head out of the sand”.

“Every day John Swinney spends putting the SNP before Scotland has consequences for our NHS,” he said.

Sarwar insisted the NHS needed change and claimed Labour would “begin the process” of doing so after the general election.

He added: “But that also needs change in Scotland, because the priorities of this SNP Government are all wrong.

“Why is John Swinney more interested in defending Michael Matheson than defending our NHS? Why is John Swinney putting his party before the country, and why is John Swinney failing NHS staff and NHS patients every single day?”

The First Minister insisted his "primary concern" was to ensure Scots receive healthcare as soon as possible.

“But I have to say, some of the rest of what Mr Sarwar went on to is just a little bit hollow,” Swinney added.

But one senior SNP minister had earlier tried to downplay the Matheson scandal and claimed it was merely "a political bubble issue".

Mairi McAllan, the Net Zero Secretary, added: "We need to forget about this issue".

Speaking at an SNP campaign event in Edinburgh, she added: "The people of Scotland are concerned about issues affecting the money in their pocket, the public services that they seek to use and their desire to get on in life.

"I don't think it's having any cut through. Having said that, it's clearly a political bubble issue, but one which I now think needs to be put to bed.

"The man has been handed down the most severe sanction in the history of the devolution era, harsher than issues of sexual misconduct in the past.

"He has lost his job, there has been no cost to the public purse and no one has been harmed."

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