Express & Star

Scottish Parliament in ‘tricky situation’ over iPad bill sanction – Swinney

The First Minister previously said he would not support the recommended suspension of Michael Matheson, but the SNP now backs it.

John Swinney

The Scottish Parliament has got itself into a “really tricky situation” over its recommended suspension for iPad bill MSP Michael Matheson, the First Minister has said.

John Swinney said he believes comments made by a member of the Holyrood committee which recommended the former health secretary be suspended for 27 days and have his salary stripped for 54 days prejudged the case.

He previously said he would not support the sanction, but an SNP motion at Parliament now backs it.

Mr Matheson attempted to use expenses to cover a near-£11,000 data roaming bill racked up on his parliamentary iPad during a family holiday to Morocco.

He later admitted the costs were incurred by his children, who were using the device as a hotspot to watch football.

Michael Matheson
Michael Matheson faces a vote on his future at Holyrood (Jane Barlow/PA)

The SNP has lodged an amendment to the motion calling for the Parliament to agree to the proposed sanctions, urging an independent review into the complaints process, arguing the probe into Mr Matheson ran the risk of being “prejudged”.

The motion, in the name of Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes, notes Scottish Conservative MSP Annie Wells “made public pronouncements on this case in advance of the complaint being heard by the committee and has remained a committee member throughout; agrees that this runs the risk of the committee report being open to bias and prejudice and the complaint being prejudged, thereby bringing the Parliament into disrepute”.

Following the initial announcement of the sanctions last week, Mr Swinney described the findings of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee as “prejudiced”.

Ms Wells, he said, had tainted the process through comments she made last year in which she described Mr Matheson’s explanation for the bill as being “riddled with lies”.

Mr Swinney told Sky News on a General Election campaign visit on Wednesday: “I never at any stage suggested that I would bring forward an alternative proposition. What I expressed was concerns about a process which I think brings Parliament into disrepute.

“In no other walk of life would it be tolerable for somebody on a disciplinary panel to prejudge a case.

“It just wouldn’t be allowed in any other walk of life, and I think the Scottish Parliament has got itself into a really tricky situation by doing that.

“Parliament will sort these things out and it will decide its position and obviously I’ll accept what Parliament decides.”

Following the Holyrood debate and vote on the committee’s recommended sanction on Wednesday, the Tories will then force a vote on Mr Matheson’s future, calling for him to resign.

It is unlikely the motion will pass, however, with the Scottish Greens not expected to support it and party MSP Ross Greer describing it as “cynical”.

Speaking ahead of the debate, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “Public trust in MSPs is on the line in today’s vote – and it will be destroyed if SNP and Greens MSPs do a dodgy deal to save Michael Matheson’s skin.

John Swinney
Immediately after the sanction was announced last week, First Minister John Swinney declared the standards committee process had been ‘prejudiced’ (PA)

“Michael Matheson outrageously billed the taxpayer £11,000 for roaming charges he racked up while on holiday. He then repeatedly misled the public and Parliament to cover his tracks and only paid back the money when he was rumbled.

“Michael Matheson would have been sacked in any other walk of life for what he did. That is why opinion polls show the vast majority believe he has to go.

“The public will be incandescent with rage with every MSP who fails to back this motion because those politicians will effectively be saying, ‘normal rules don’t apply to us – we’re better than you’.

“MSPs must vote for our motion to tell Michael Matheson he must finally do the decent thing and quit.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar accused the SNP of “putting their party interests before the good of the country”.

Douglas Ross
Tory leader Douglas Ross has urged Michael Matheson to resign (PA)

He added: “John Swinney and the SNP are using the Boris Johnson and Conservative Party playbook – putting personal relationships before the integrity of Parliament.

“John Swinney is trying to defend the indefensible by backing Matheson, who was found to have attempted to misuse £11,000 of public money.

“It’s completely and utterly unacceptable.”

He said Labour is “dedicated to cleaning up politics”, including by introducing a Bill that would include a recall process to sack suspended MSPs.

A spokesman for the SNP Holyrood group said: “The procedures of the Parliament must be beyond reproach – not open to bias, prejudice and political motivation.

“There is a need for a review of the complaints process to restore integrity and confidence in the Parliament and its procedures to ensure we are never again in a position where politics is put before process and prejudice is put before Parliament.”

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