Pressure on Matheson to resign over Holyrood rule breaches

14 March 2024, 16:56

Michael Matheson breached the MSP code of conduct.
Michael Matheson breached the MSP code of conduct. Picture: Alamay

By Gina Davidson

Scotland's disgraced former health secretary Michael Matheson is under pressure to quit as an MSP after an internal Holyrood investigation found he had broken parliamentary expenses rules when he claimed for an £11,000 ipad data bill.

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The Scottish Parliament Corporate Body has ruled he breached the MSP's Code of Conduct and there had been "improper use" of the expenses system.

It has now asked Holyrood's Standards Committee to rule on any sanctions.

However Scottish Conservative Chairman Craig Hoy MSP said the "devastating and damning report" meant that "Mr Matheson must do the right thing and resign as an MSP now."

And Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie also pointed the finger at the First Minister, accusing Humza Yousaf and senior ministers of being "complicit in Michael Matheson's attempt to mislead the Parliament".

Matheson, MSP for Falkirk West, resigned from the Cabinet last month citing the ongoing parliamentary investigation into the bill which was racked up when he was on a family holiday in Morocco, but was paid for by the public purse.

He had initially claimed £3000 of the bill through his parliamentary expenses - with the rest picked up by the Scottish Parliament after he said the expenditure was a result of carrying out constituency work while he was on holiday.

When the £11k bill was revealed, Matheson was backed by First Minister Humza Yousaf who said the claim was a "legitimate parliamentary expense".

However Matheson was later forced to admit to MSPs the bill was the result of his sons streaming live football matches, but said he had been unaware of that at the time.

As a result he referred himself to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body to be investigated - and repaid the whole £11,000 to the parliament.

The SPCB has now published its findings but said its full report will be released after consideration by Holyrood's Standards Committee which could ultimately apply sanctions on Matheson.

In a statement it said it had "decided that, based on the evidence presented in the investigation report and its findings in fact, Mr Matheson had breached sections 7.3 and 7.4 of the code of conduct and thereby upheld the three complaints within the SPCB's remit.

"While the costs to the public purse had been addressed, the SPCB agreed that the Nolan Principles of Standards in Public Life, embedded in the scheme and underpinning the appropriate use of parliamentary resources, represented the high standard by which all members must abide and in which the SPCB considered the public must continue to have confidence.

"The report will be referred to the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to consider if the former minister should be sanctioned."

The SPCB itself made no recommendations as to potential punishment but did say the full report, including annexes, will be published after the committee's consideration.

Matheson was found to have breached clauses of the MSP code of conduct which say members must "abide by the policies" of the SPCB and that "no improper use should be made of any payment or allowance made to members for public purposes".

Scottish Labour deputy leader Dame Jackie Baillie said "appropriate action" must be taken against the former health secretary.

"The conclusion of this long running investigation is to be welcomed, but the findings pose serious questions for the First Minister and the SNP Government," she said.

"The fact is that (First Minister) Humza Yousaf and senior ministers were complicit in Michael Matheson's attempt to mislead the Parliament.

"This is a serious error of judgment. Appropriate action must be taken against Mr Matheson."

Scottish Lib Dem leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the First Minister was at best "extremely gullible" about Matheson's actions and "at worst he was complicit in covering it up".

And Scottish Conservative chair, Craig Hoy said: “This is a devastating and damning report for the disgraced former health secretary.

“It is little wonder he was shamefully stalling for time on its publication given he has been found to have breached the MSPs’ code of conduct multiple times.

“This amounts to the most serious of charges against any elected member and Mr Matheson must do the right thing and resign as an MSP now.

“He must also confirm that he will not take a penny of his ministerial severance pay given what the report has found.

“The public saw through the repeated lies from the outset and now they have been fully exposed. Humza Yousaf also must urgently explain why he backed his former Cabinet colleague for so long, rather than sacking him when his lies were first uncovered.”

A spokesperson for Michael Matheson MSP said: "It would not be appropriate to comment while the matter is being considered by the Standards committee."