SNP 'backroom deal with the Greens' could save disgraced MSP Michael Matheson from Holyrood punishment

Michael Matheson
-Credit: (Image: PA Wire)

John Swinney could rely on a backroom deal with the Greens to save face in a crunch vote over his support for shamed former minister Michael Matheson.

MSPs are set to decide whether to uphold sanctions against former health secretary Matheson after he charged taxpayers for an £11,000 iPad roaming charge racked up on holiday streaming football games. The Sunday Mail understands Labour, the Conservatives, Lib Dems and Alba will vote to uphold the findings of the Standards Committee.

But we can reveal the Green party could back a possible amendment, tabled by the SNP, to support a lesser sanction with their swing votes. The SNP hopes this will save the First Minister from excruciating political embarrassment in the first week of the general election campaign.

Swinney tried to claim the committee had acted with prejudice because one of its members – Tory MSP Annie Wells – had previously criticised Matheson.

It recommended banning Matheson for 27 sitting days of Parliament and docking 54 days’ pay. MSPs will vote on this and also a Conservative motion calling for Matheson to resign this week.

Opposition politicians have been scathing over the revelations. Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Michael Matheson tried to misuse £11,000 of public money but John Swinney seems to want to throw parliamentary procedure, parliamentary democracy, the committee system and good sense out the window in order to protect one of his friends.

“I think people can see that and it’s completely and utterly unacceptable.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “The vote on whether to uphold the recommendations of the Standards Committee will be the most important vote to come before Parliament, and my party will vote to uphold the sanctions recommended for Michael Matheson.

“We will also support the Conservative motion for him to resign as an MSP. Without the power of recall, his resignation and a subsequent by-election in which he stands would be the only way for Mr Matheson to submit himself to the judgement of his constituents.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “It’s wildly out of touch for John Swinney to claim in “no other walk of life” would Michael Matheson be sanctioned.

“In truth, in any other walk of life Michael Matheson would be sacked for making a false claim for £11,000 and lying about it. Only the SNP think what he’s done is acceptable.

“John Swinney is destroying his own credibility to protect a liar who tried to take £11,000 from taxpayers.”

And a parliamentary source has suggested it was almost inevitable Matheson would face a police investigation over the scandal.

The source said: “The SNP are trying to defend the indefensible. Michael Matheson may well be a nice guy but traducing a parliamentary committee to try to get your friend off with trying to get away with £11,000 of taxpayers’ money will go down like a bucket of cold sick in the real world.

“Based on the damning evidence in the report into this scandal, it is only a matter of time before Matheson is reported to the police for alleged fraud.”

The dad-of-three had blamed his children for the data bill and was forced to pay back the sum after appearing to lie about when he knew the charge wasn’t in relation to parliamentary business.

A Scottish Greens spokesperson said: “Michael Matheson made a mistake for which he has already been punished, but it is the view of the Green group of MSPs it is correct he receives further parliamentary sanction and we will vote for such action.

“However, we are united in our concern that the Standards Committee does not appear to have a consistent approach to the level of sanctions proposed, has allowed members to pre-judge the case, and has also seen draft proposals leaked. It is clear that if it is to retain confidence, the committee will require a more rigorous approach in future.

“What we will not do is support the unscrupulous and vindictive calls for him to resign from the Tories who are being not just shallow and callous, but abusing their positions as parliamentarians through partisan self-interest.”

The First Minister visited constituencies around Scotland yesterday during the party’s first “day of action” for the General Election campaign.

When questioned over his support for Matheson he said: “I’m not going to have prejudice taken forward in any part of Scottish life, it shouldn’t happen in the Scottish Parliament.

“Now parliament will sort out these issues, it will address these issues as it considers the committee’s report.”

He insisted another Conservative MSP had withdrawn from the Standards Committee due to previous comments about Matheson.

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He said: “We cannot have our national parliament presiding over prejudice and certainly not prejudice from the Conservatives.”

He also responded to criticism of the SNP from Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens - whose party is now likely to save the SNP in votes on Matheson.

Harvie, who left the Scottish Government last month when the two parties’ powersharing deal was ended by Humza Yousaf, said the SNP are “trying to face both ways on climate and the fossil fuel industry”.

Swinney said he backed a “balanced approach to energy transition that will get us to net zero but will get us there in a way that supports our economy”.

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