The saga of “iPadgate” continues at Holyrood more than a week after it first erupted on the pages of this publication; or rather it doesn’t continue in the way it should because the minister who should have resigned by now, still hasn’t done so.
It’s astonishing that Michael Matheson, Scotland’s health minister, is still in post having been at the centre of a tortuous series of claims and denials over an £11,000 bill that he didn’t want to pay.
It is now 12 days since my colleague, Simon Johnson, first revealed that Matheson had expected the taxpayer to pick up this huge bill for data charges that had been run up on his iPad while on a foreign holiday with his wife and family.
He is a very senior member of the Scottish Government and one of its most experienced. However, perhaps most significant of all, given the resolute support he’s been getting from that quarter, he also seems to be a close associate of Humza Yousaf, the First Minister.
But although the latter’s thus far stuck by Matheson, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that he’s been sold the same load of old toffee as the rest of us.
We’ve had several explanations from Matheson about this extraordinary affair.
Insisted that taxpayers pick up £10,941.74 bill
First of all, he insisted that we, the taxpayers, should pick up the entire £10,941.74 bill. The Holyrood authorities had agreed to meet this whopper after they received written assurances from the minister that his use of this massive amount of data had been “exclusively for parliamentary purposes”.
Now, that’s a lot of parliamentary work, especially when it was supposedly done during Holyrood’s Christmas recess last year when the minister was on a family holiday in Morocco. However, the minister didn’t give details of the constituency work that he claimed he was doing while away from Dec 27 to Jan 3 when he ran up those charges.
And, to cut a long and complex story short, first of all, Matheson paid some of the bill and then, admitting that he’d failed to follow parliamentary advice about a mix-up over Sim cards, he paid all of it.
But that was only after he’d been told by his wife that, contrary to earlier denials, there had been “personal use” of the iPad by his family – his sons had been using it to watch football matches.
Matheson knew this to be the case but still stuck to the falsehood there had been no family use when answering reporters’ questions and also maintains this line in talks with Yousaf who insists the matter is “closed” because the money has been paid.
Admitted teenage sons watched Celtic on parliamentary iPad
However, one thing this matter most definitely is not is “closed”. Matheson is refusing to hand over the iPad for a proper inspection but now admits it was used by his teenage sons to watch Celtic, their favourite football team.
But did their Dad never look in on the matches? Apparently not. Really?
Matheson confessed to his sons’ behaviour in an, at times, tearful statement to Holyrood last week. There has been some sympathy for his family’s embarrassment and for the fact that he said he was trying to protect his family.
Nevertheless, the catalogue of conflicting versions Matheson has trotted out in the recent days – to the parliamentary authorities, to the press, to MSPs and – even it seems – to the First Minister, should mean that there is only one option open to him: resignation. If he doesn’t go quietly the Scottish Parliament, by backing a looming Tory no-confidence motion, should remove him.
How can he stay as a senior minister, especially in such a sensitive portfolio as health where, above all, patients, and their families deserve to be told the truth at all times?
Throughout this squalid episode, Matheson is accused of squirming and wriggling to keep his job. As a result, if he remains as health minister, nobody will believe a word he says.