SNP minister suspended over £11,000 iPad roaming bill row but refuses to quit

Michael Matheson. Credit: PA

Former SNP health secretary Michael Matheson has been suspended from the Scottish Parliament for 27 days after racking up a near-£11,000 data roaming bill, but is refusing to stand down.

Mr Matheson was found to have breached the MSP code of conduct by attempting to use expenses and office costs to cover the bill for a parliamentary iPad while on a holiday in Morocco.

Pressure had been growing in the hours since Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee published its verdict against him, which also included a recommendation to strip him of his salary for 54 days.

Speaking to journalists after First Minister's Questions, Mr Matheson insisted he will stay on as an MSP, adding: "I think it’s pretty clear that the process has become highly politicised, which has compromised the process and the fairness of the process. “I also think the sanctions they’ve imposed are excessive and they are unfair.” Mr Matheson said it is now for Parliament to decide on the next steps, and he vowed to “abide” by whatever decision it takes. He said he hopes he will continue to represent Falkirk West “for many years to come”.

Announcing separately that he would cover the costs himself, Mr Matheson revealed the bill had been the result of his children using the device as a WiFi hotspot to watch football during a holiday in Morocco.

The former minister initially denied there had been any inappropriate use of the device, when asked by journalists. After months of pressure on him, Mr Matheson stood down as health secretary in February.

First Minister John Swinney had also attacked the committee’s probe, claiming Conservative member Annie Wells had “prejudiced” it due to comments she made in November of last year – describing the process as "unfair".

He read a comment from Ms Wells in which she had described Mr Matheson’s explanation as “riddled with lies”.

Mr Swinney said if a constituent had come to him facing disciplinary action at work when their employer had made similar comments about them, he would “come down on that employer like a tonne of bricks”.

He added: “That is the situation that Michael Matheson is facing here, and that is why I will not be supporting the sanction.”

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said his party will call a vote urging Michael Matheson to resign Credit: PA

The First Minister said Mr Matheson has “suffered significant reputational damage and impact on his family as a consequence of losing office and the difficulties that have been created here”, and added he has paid back the roaming costs.

But Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused Mr Matheson of “deceit and abuse of trust” as he revealed his party will seek to push him to resign in a vote next week.He described Mr Swinney's support for his SNP colleague as "incredible and indefensible". Rather than being a "First Minister for all of Scotland" as he claimed after taking the role, Mr Ross described him as a "First Minister that backs his pals".

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the comments from the First Minister were “utterly unbelievable and embarrassing”.

He added: “He has demeaned himself and the office of First Minister. Two weeks in and the pretence of a new kind of Government is gone. Party first – country second."

Urging the First Minister to “do the right thing for once", he called on Mr Swinney to demand Mr Matheson's resignation.

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Mr Matheson's punishment was handed down by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee at Holyrood on Thursday. It will now be subject to a vote in the Parliament.

While it has no doubt increased pressure on him to stand down as an MSP, he may stay on, given the Scottish Parliament has no way of removing elected members in the way the UK Parliament does.

South of the border, a suspension of 10 sitting days is enough to spark a recall petition, which allows constituents to remove an MP if 10% sign the document.

This was most recently used in Rutherglen and Hamilton West following the breach of Covid regulations by former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier and resulted in Labour taking the seat with a massive swing.

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