Matheson vows to remain an MSP as Holyrood backs suspension over iPad scandal

Michael Matheson has insisted he will remain an MSP despite Holyrood voting to impose tough sanctions on him after he racked up a data roaming bill of almost £11,000 on his Parliament-issued iPad.

MSPs voted by 64 to zero to impose the punishment, which will see Mr Matheson suspended from Holyrood for 27 days and lose his MSP salary for twice that period – the heaviest sanction ever given out in the Scottish Parliament – but the 63 SNP MSPs abstained.

An SNP amendment highlighting the party’s concerns that the committee which recommended the sanctions had been prejudiced, “thereby bringing the Parliament into disrepute”, was also passed.

The amended motion criticised Conservative MSP Annie Wells for her “public pronouncements” on Mr Matheson ahead of his actions being considered by Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee – of which she is a member.

It went on to state this “runs the risk of the committee report being open to bias and prejudice and the complaint being prejudged”, as it said there should be an independent review of the Parliament’s complaints processes

In scenes Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said were “bizarre in the extreme”, the SNP voted for the amendment, but then abstained when it came to voting on the amended motion.

Later on Wednesday, the Scottish Tories failed to pass a motion calling for Mr Matheson to resign.

MSPs voted by 68 votes to 55 against the move, instead passing a Green amendment which removed the majority of the Tory motion and called for reform of the process for considering sanctions for MSPs as well as another from Scottish Labour calling for a process to recall MSPs.

Mr Ross said that while Mr Matheson is facing suspension and a loss of wages, “any other Scot would have been handed their P45 straight away”.

He said: “If someone is found to have falsely claimed £11,000 from their employer, in this case the taxpayer, then they lied about it as part of a cover-up, they would have been sacked.”

He insisted the former health secretary’s actions were not a “harmless mistake”, saying he had made a “deliberate and shameless attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of this Parliament and the public”.

Douglas Ross said Michael Matheson had made a ‘deliberate and shameless attempt’ to fool Parliament and the public (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Douglas Ross said Michael Matheson had made a ‘deliberate and shameless attempt’ to fool Parliament and the public (Andrew Milligan/PA)

The row was originally sparked when Mr Matheson admitted his teenage sons used his iPad as a hotspot so they could watch football while on a family holiday in Morocco.

The then-minister had initially insisted the device had only been used for work purposes and he attempted to get the public purse to pick up the costs.

He later confessed to his children’s involvement, and paid the money back to the Scottish Parliament.

While he later quit as health secretary, he remains the MSP for Falkirk West.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Matheson said: “I apologise and regret that this situation occurred. I acknowledge and accept the decision of Parliament.

John Swinney was accused of ‘bully boy tactics’ in his criticism of comments from Tory Annie Wells (Andrew Milligan/PA)
John Swinney was accused of ‘bully boy tactics’ in his criticism of comments from Tory Annie Wells (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“I also note that Parliament has called for the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body to carry out an independent review of the Parliament’s complaints process to restore integrity and confidence in the Parliament and its procedures, which I hope will be progressed.

“I look forward to continuing to represent the people of Falkirk West, as I have done for many years.”

Tory leader Mr Ross criticised Scottish First Minister John Swinney, saying he had to tried to “derail and undermine due process” with his criticism of Ms Wells’s behaviour.

Mr Ross insisted: “The actions of the First Minister towards my colleague Annie Wells would make Donald Trump blush.

“It is disgusting and disgraceful behaviour that demeans the office of First Minister, because he has targeted members of an independent committee in this Parliament and is attempting to undermine due process with his bully boy tactics.”

Mr Swinney later told journalists he does not think Mr Matheson should resign as an MSP.

He said: “He made a mistake and has been given a punishment by Parliament which I accept unreservedly.

“Michael should accept that punishment and continue to serve the people that sent him here.

“Parliament has accepted this is appropriate and I accept what Parliament has said.”

The First Minister also signalled support for a system that would give the public the chance to recall their MSPs, adding: “I don’t think the arrangements here are currently adequate.”