John Swinney has derailed the SNP general election campaign over shamed Michael Matheson

John Swinney
-Credit: (Image: Getty Images)

John Swinney has derailed the SNP’s general election campaign with his inexplicable behaviour over tarnished Michael Matheson.

The £11,000 data roaming scandal has had cut through on the doorsteps and the former Health Secretary is political asbestos.

A stiff Holyrood ban was always likely to be approved but Swinney’s instinct was to try to save Matheson by trashing the committee behind the sanction.

The First Minister, not his Holyrood opponents, made Matheson a general election issue.

Even Swinney's close allies believe he has screwed it up.

“John is the right man to be FM, but I have no idea what he was doing there,” one supporter said.

The most plausible explanation is his desire for unity within his SNP group at Holyrood.

Swinney leads a minority government but calculates that the 63 votes he can rely on will usually prevail over an opposition consisting of left and right wingers.

The same thinking led him to appointing social conservative Kate Forbes as his deputy first minister.

The scars on his back from the first time he led the SNP, where a divided group brought him down, run deep.

But sticking up for Matheson triggered a backlash among his own colleagues and handed a gift to Labour and the Conservatives.

Ordinary punters know they would have been sacked for what Matheson did and Swinney’s muddying of the waters looks partisan and dodgy.

His party’s pathetic decision to abstain on the Matheson sanction reeked of weakness.

General election campaigns are short and every day is a battle to muscle into the debate and shape the narrative.

The SNP are trailing Labour in the polls and Swinney’s intervention wasted precious days he can ill-afford to throw away.

Swinney has stabilised the Government and has largely exercised good judgement since he took over from Humza Yousaf.

But wading in to the Matheson controversy was a terrible move which has given fresh life to an expenses scandal.

A bad election result for the SNP on July 4th could turn into a nightmare.

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