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More than six in ten Scots want Michael Matheson to quit over £11,000 roaming charges row

Michael Matheson said he ‘recognises the public concern around this issue’
Michael Matheson said he ‘recognises the public concern around this issue’ - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

More than six in 10 Scots think the SNP’s health secretary should resign over the £11,000 roaming charges he racked up on holiday.

An Ipsos poll for STV News found 61 per cent of people thought Michael Matheson should quit over the scandal, with 31 per cent stating he should remain in post.

More SNP voters from the 2021 Holyrood election thought that Mr Matheson should resign (52 per cent) than believed he should continue in his role (44 per cent).

The survey also found 74 per cent of Conservative supporters and 72 per cent of Labour backers thought he should quit. A total of 1,004 adults were asked their opinion between Nov 20 and 26.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said the poll showed “the Scottish public can see right through Michael Matheson’s tissue of lies and cover-ups” and that he had to stand down.

But Mr Matheson continued to refuse to resign, saying he was focused on supporting the NHS to help it cope with winter pressures.

He insisted he had repaid the taxpayer for the charges as soon as he became aware that his two teenage sons had been using his parliamentary iPad as an internet hotspot to watch football matches while on holiday.

Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory party leader, accused Humza Yousaf of being ‘out of touch for standing by his totally discredited minister’
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory party leader, accused Humza Yousaf of being ‘out of touch for standing by his totally discredited minister’ - TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS

However, Holyrood’s authorities handed Mr Matheson a breakdown of the £10,935.74 bill on Feb 7 – more than nine months before he repaid the money – showing the bill surged on the days of football fixtures.

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.

Mr Matheson only agreed to pay back the money from his own pocket on Nov 10, two days after the Telegraph disclosed the bill. His annual salary is £118,511.

In a statement to MSPs, he claimed he had only found out his sons had used the device to watch football on Nov 9 when he was informed by his wife.

However, he later falsely told the media on Nov 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 Jan 2, the day of the Old Firm match between Rangers and Celtic, were £7,345.69 but this was a public holiday.

Humza Yousaf told the media on Nov 15 that “I absolutely take Michael at his word” that the roaming charges were incurred entirely for constituency work.

Dame Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said ‘the health minister was focused on saving his job not on our NHS’
Dame Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said ‘the health minister was focused on saving his job not on our NHS’ - Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA

Mr Matheson later admitted that he had informed Mr Yousaf on Nov 14 – the day before the First Minister made his comments – that the charges had been run up by his two teenage sons watching football.

Asked about the poll, Mr Matheson said: “I recognise some of the public concern around this issue.

“Of course, as soon as I became aware that the iPad had been used for personal purposes – unbeknown to me – I took immediate action in order to reimburse the parliament for those costs.

“But I’ve got an important job that I need to get on with. From my point of view, I’ve been very clear about getting on with my job as health secretary – you can see over the course of the last couple of weeks I’ve continued to focus on doing that job.”

‘Poll shows Yousaf’s arrogance’

But Mr Ross said: “By a huge majority they recognise the health secretary’s position is untenable and that he has to go. It beggars belief that Humza Yousaf and Michael Matheson refuse to recognise this, when even a majority of SNP supporters do.

“This poll demonstrates how arrogant and out of touch the First Minister was to not just stand by a totally discredited minister but aid and abet his efforts to mislead the public.”

Dame Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said: “The verdict of the Scottish Public is clear – they want a health minister that is focused on our NHS, not one focused on saving his job.

‘Matheson has misled the public’

“Michael Matheson has misled the public and taken the focus away from the ongoing and deadly crisis in our NHS. It is time for Michael Matheson to step aside.”

The survey also showed 40 per cent of Scots intend to vote SNP in next year’s general election, down one point on a similar poll conducted in May.

Backing for Labour was up one point to 30 per cent, while the Tories were down two points on 15 per cent.

Scots were slightly more likely to agree that Labour is ready to form the next UK Government (41 per cent) than to disagree (36 per cent).

However, more people disagreed (45 per cent) than agreed (32 per cent) that Labour was ready to form the next Scottish Government.

The SNP (39 per cent) had a 12 point lead over Labour (27 per cent) in Scottish Parliament constituency voting intention. Support for separation was put at 56 per cent, with opposition 44 per cent.

SNP ‘remain out in front’ among voters

Anas Sarwar (+3) was the only party leader in Scotland with a net positive popularity rating – the difference between the proportions of people who approved and disapproved of the Scottish Labour leader. Mr Yousaf had a -13 rating and Mr Ross -27.

Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos in Scotland, said: “Although Humza Yousaf’s party have been having a difficult time of late, with controversy over Michael Matheson’s parliamentary iPad data roaming bill of almost £11,000, they remain out in front when it comes to voter preferences for both Westminster and Holyrood elections.”