Matheson refuses to quit as Swinney condemns ‘prejudiced’ iPad charges probe

Michael Matheson has refused to stand down as an MSP after the First Minister claimed the process which recommended he is barred from the Scottish Parliament for 27 days was “prejudiced”.

Pressure had been growing in the hours since Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee published its verdict against the former health secretary on Thursday morning, which also included a recommendation to strip him of his salary for 54 days – with both sanctions to be voted on by MSPs.

Speaking to journalists after First Minister’s Questions, Mr Matheson – who was investigated by the committee after attempting to cover a near-£11,000 data roaming bill incurred during a Moroccan holiday on expenses and office costs – hit out at the process.

He said: “I think it’s pretty clear 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.”

Mr Matheson said it is now for Parliament to decide on the next steps, and he vowed to “abide” by whatever decision it takes.

He said he hopes he will continue to represent Falkirk West “for many years to come”.

Minutes earlier, First Minister John Swinney had also attacked the committee’s probe, claiming Conservative member Annie Wells had “prejudiced” it due to comments she made in November of last year.

Speaking during FMQs, he said: “As I consider the findings from the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, I have significant concern.

“I believe this process has been prejudiced.”

Annie Wells
Comments made by Tory committee member Annie Wells were highlighted as John Swinney questioned the fairness of the process (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

The First Minister read a comment from Ms Wells in which she had described Mr Matheson’s explanation as “riddled with lies”.

Fellow Tory MSP Stephen Kerr announced earlier this year he would resign from the committee because he could not be objective in the Matheson case and he was replaced by Conservative Oliver Mundell.

Mr Swinney said if a constituent had come to him facing disciplinary action at work when their employer had made similar comments about them, he would “come down on that employer like a tonne of bricks”.

He added: “That is the situation that Michael Matheson is facing here, and that is why I will not be supporting the sanction.”

The First Minister said Mr Matheson has “suffered significant reputational damage and impact on his family as a consequence of losing office and the difficulties that have been created here”, and added he has paid back the roaming costs.

“This Parliament needs to consider seriously the reputational damage that will arise from presiding over an unfair process,” he added.

But Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused Mr Matheson of “deceit and abuse of trust” as he revealed his party will seek to push him to resign in a vote next week.

On Mr Swinney’s support for Mr Matheson, the Tory chief added: “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.”

Such a vote will not be legally binding, and it will require every opposition party to support the motion for it to pass.

Mr Ross said if the vote is approved, a by-election could be held on July 4 – the same date as the General Election.

Anas Sarwar
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused the First Minister of putting ‘party first’ (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the comments from the First Minister were “utterly unbelievable and embarrassing”.

He added: “He has demeaned himself and the office of First Minister.

“Two weeks in and the pretence of a new kind of Government is gone.

“Party first – country second.

“It’s not the actions of a committee that should be judged, it’s the actions of a member who attempted to wrongly claim £11,000 of public money.”

Mr Sarwar urged the First Minister to “do the right thing for once and put the integrity of our Parliament and our democracy before your political party and demand that Michael Matheson resigns so the people of his constituency can vote for someone who is on their side, not fighting for themselves”.

Responding, the First Minister said he twice wrote to the convener of the committee with concerns about the fairness of the process.

In one of the letters – dated April 3 – the First Minister said the committee was at “considerable risk of being considered to be prejudiced” if Ms Wells was allowed to contribute to proceedings.

On Thursday, when asked if he would support the creation of a recall process, similar to that of Westminster, the First Minister said it would be “appropriate” and is ultimately something “Parliament can consider”.

Standards committee convener Martin Whitfield earlier revealed its recommendations to Parliament, saying he had used his casting vote to break the deadlock between two SNP and two Tory members on the suspension, while the salary recommendation was unanimous.

He said MSPs have obligations to act properly under the code of conduct, adding: “Any failure to meet those obligations has an adverse impact on the reputation of the expenses scheme, members and the Parliament as a whole.”

In his response to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, which found he had breached the code, Mr Matheson said he had been forced to install “additional security measures” at his family home and constituency office.