Michael Matheson’s local council votes for him to resign over £11k roaming bill

SNP Health Secretary Michael Matheson
Mr Matheson rackd up a £11,000 roaming bill on holiday - Jane Barlow

Michael Matheson’s local council has voted for him to resign as SNP Health Secretary and the area’s MSP over the £11,000 roaming charges he racked up on holiday.

A full meeting of Falkirk council endorsed a motion stating there were “significant concerns in the local community” about the scandal that had been “heightened by his changing account of what happened”.

Tabled by a Labour councillor, it said the “loss of confidence in Michael Matheson as a representative of the communities of Falkirk West as a result of his handling of this issue is so significant” that he should resign.

The motion said the council urged him to quit both as Health Secretary in the Scottish Government and the MSP for Falkirk West, which would trigger a by-election.

It was approved by the local authority after a failed attempt by SNP councillors to amend the motion, removing the call for him to resign and praising his “exemplary” record as a local MSP.

Limited pushback by SNP councillors

Nationalist councillors still had a chance to prevent the resignation motion passing by backing a Tory amendment calling for him to instead “consider his position” but they abstained.

This meant the original Labour motion passed unamended by the council, which is run by a minority SNP administration.

The humiliating vote on Thursday afternoon occurred shortly after the Scottish Parliament disclosed the initial findings of an investigation into the affair will not be published until January.

The ruling by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) said the Falkirk West MSP would be given two weeks to make a written submission explaining his actions. Further face-to-face meetings would then take place if necessary in private.

Stephen Kerr, a Scottish Tory MSP for Central Scotland, said the Falkirk council vote showed “it is obvious the wheels are coming off the SNP bus.”

He said: “Michael Matheson is now so totally discredited that even his own side have given up on him. He should resign now.”

James Bundy, a Tory councillor for Falkirk North, said: “Never did I think the SNP would step back and allow a motion which calls for Michael Matheson to resign as MSP for Falkirk West pass at full council.”

Data bill scandal

Mr Matheson racked up the bill after taking his parliamentary iPad on a family holiday with him to Morocco last Christmas.

He told the parliament at the time he had used the iPad solely for constituency matters and it allowed him to use his taxpayer-funded expenses to fund £3,000 of the bill. Holyrood funded the £7,935.74 balance from its own budget.

The Health Secretary, whose annual salary is £118,511, paid back the money from his own pocket on November 10, two days after the Telegraph disclosed the bill.

In a statement to MSPs, he claimed he had only found out on November 9 that his sons had used the iPad as an internet hotspot to watch football matches.

But it later emerged he had falsely told the media on November 13 that nobody else had used the device and there was no personal use.

The Falkirk West MSP has not explained how he thought he had run up the bill on constituency business. The roaming charges on January 2, the day of the Old Firm match between Rangers and Celtic, were £7,345.69 but this was a public holiday.

The Falkirk council motion noted that “the highest level of integrity and trust is required of those who hold elected office to serve our communities.”

Highlighting local concern at Mr Matheson’s behaviour, it said “those concerns have been heightened by his changing account of what happened during the course of his explanations to the media and parliament” and demanded he resign.

The 12 SNP councillors tabled an amendment stating that “since his election 24 years ago Mr Matheson has been an exemplary MSP and has held a number of roles in Government at a senior level and has done so with honesty and integrity throughout.”

It argued he had provided a “clear explanation of the events and ensured that the Parliament was reimbursed for the full cost.” However, this was voted down by Labour and Tory councillors along with some independents.

Craig Hoy, the Scottish Tory chairman, said it was “disappointing” that the SPCB inquiry report would not be published until the new year.

Falkirk Council declined to comment.

An SNP spokesman said: “Michael Matheson MSP has the full confidence and support of Falkirk Council’s SNP administration.

“What we bore witness to today was further political gameplaying by, in the main, a Labour and Tory party who are desperate to perpetuate headlines to further their own political ends.

“It beggars belief that Falkirk Council has had to waste time debating an issue that bears no relevance to improving the lives of people within our communities.”