John Swinney says investigation into Michael Matheson has been 'prejudiced'

John Swinney has said the investigation into Michael Matheson's £11,000 data roaming scandal has been "prejudiced".

The First Minister said he will not be supporting the 27-day suspension and a salary ban which was recommended by a parliament committee.

During FMQs Swinney took issue with comments made by Tory MSP Annie Wells, who voted for Matheson's suspension on the Standards Committee. Wells had previously publicly criticised Matheson.

Holyrood's Corporate Body judged Matheson had breached the code of conduct, but it was the Standards committee who voted for the sanction.

SNP leader Swinney also admitted that Matheson is a “friend and colleague” who has “made mistakes”.

The Scottish Tories have said they will bring forward a vote to force Matheson to resign next week.

Matheson currently faces intense pressure to stand down as an MSP. Fellow MSPs will have the final say on whether to rubber stamp the sanctions.

Matheson quit as Health Secretary this year over the massive bill he racked up on an iPad during a family holiday to Morocco.

He initially pleaded ignorance and was content for the taxpayer to foot the bill for the data roaming. But after facing sustained questions he says his children had used the device to stream football.

Swinney said: "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."

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”.

Holyrood bosses found Matheson guilty of breaching the MSP’s code of conduct and the matter was referred to the parliament’s cross-party Standards Committee.

The 27 day suspension was agreed by a majority of the committee. The salary ban was unanimous.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused Swinney of "backing his nationalist friend" and said his party would bring forward a motion to remove Matheson from Holyrood.

Ross said: “That is incredible and indefensible by the First Minister.

“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.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused Swinney of "demeaning the office of First Minister".

He said: "“John Swinney has demeaned himself, the Parliament and the office of First Minister by attempting to defend the indefensible.

“Two weeks in and the pretence of a new kind of government has been shattered – it is still party first and country second with the SNP.

“This scandal is clearly deeper than Michael Matheson’s failure.

“It is about the rotten attitude of this SNP Government to scrutiny and the failure of anyone to take responsibility.

“Even now that what Michael Matheson has done is clear, the SNP is standing behind him.

“Michael Matheson should do the right thing, stand down and allow a by-election to take place on the same day as the General Election, and John Swinney should have made that clear today."

He added: “The SNP are quick to demand action at Westminster, but they always seem to hold themselves to a lower standard here in Scotland.

“The SNP think it is one rule for them and another for everyone else."

Matheson said after FMQs: “I acknowledge the recommendations that the committee have made.

“I think it’s pretty clear though that the process has become highly politicised, which has compromised the process and the fairness of the process.

“I also think the sanctions they’ve imposed are excessive and they are unfair.”

Matheson said it is now for parliament to decide on the next steps for the report, and said he would “abide” by whatever decision it takes.

He said he hoped he would continue representing Falkirk West “for many years to come”.

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