SNP faces defeat over Holyrood ban for Michael Matheson

Home UK News SNP faces defeat over Holyrood ban for Michael Matheson
SNP faces defeat over Holyrood ban for Michael Matheson

Angus Cochrane ,BBC Scotland News

Getty Images Michael Matheson Getty Images

Michael Matheson resigned from the government in February following a scandal over his expenses

The SNP are facing defeat in a vote over proposals to suspend and dock the pay of former health secretary Michael Matheson over an £11,000 bill racked up on his parliamentary iPad.

The Falkirk West MSP, who quit the cabinet in February, is also the subject of a Scottish Conservative motion calling on him to resign from Holyrood.

The standards committee has recommended that Mr Matheson be suspended for 27 sitting days and his salary withdrawn for 54 days.

First Minister John Swinney said he would not back the sanction – the harshest punishment ever handed to an MSP – claiming the committee had been “prejudiced” against Mr Matheson.

However, the Scottish Greens have confirmed they will support the punishment and said any attempt by the SNP to “water down” the sanctions via an amendment would be unacceptable.

Getty John SwinneyGetty

First Minister John Swinney said parliament’s reputation could be damaged if the issue was not addressed “properly”

MSPs will debate the recommended punishment on Wednesday afternoon.

If they are backed by all opposition MSPs the SNP government – a minority administration following the collapse of a power-sharing deal with the Greens – would be unable to prevent parliament from endorsing the punishment.

Mr Swinney claimed Conservative MSP Annie Wells should have removed herself from the standards committee due to previous comments about Mr Matheson’s conduct.

He described the former health secretary as a “friend and colleague” and said parliament’s reputation could be damaged if the issue was not addressed “properly”.

Mr Matheson also said he believed the fairness of the process had been compromised.


The Scottish Greens backed the sanctions against Mr Matheson but previously raised concerns the committee had not applied a “consistent approach” to the recommended punishment, had “allowed members to pre-judge the case” and had leaked draft proposals.

A spokesperson for the party said: “It remains correct that Mr Matheson is held accountable for his actions, and our MSP group will vote for the sanctions excluding him from parliament and sacrificing his salary.”

The Scottish Conservative motion, which will be debated afterwards, accuses Mr Matheson of misusing taxpayer funds and making misleading statements.

It is non-binding and is unlikely to pass after the Greens said they would not support it.

Mr Matheson has repeatedly said he will not stand down as an MSP.

iPad scandal

A £10,941.74 bill was racked up on his parliamentary iPad during a family holiday to Morocco between December 2022 and January 2023.

It was agreed with parliament that the bill would be paid out of the public purse, including £3,000 from his own office cost allowance.

When details of the bill were first reported in November 2023, Mr Matheson blamed the bill on an out of date sim card and insisted the device had been used exclusively for constituency work.

Following days of speculation he told parliament his sons had used the iPad to set up a wifi hotspot. He apologised and agreed to pay the bill personally and in full.

He quit as health secretary in February after more than nine years in cabinet ahead of the publication of a report by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB), which found he had breached the MSPs code of conduct.

The SPCB report was then considered by the cross-party standards committee. Labour MSP Martin Whitfield, the committee convener, said the proposed sanctions reflected the seriousness of Mr Matheson’s breach of the MSP code of conduct.

“Had it not been for mitigatory factors, including the impact on the member and his family, the sanctions proposed would likely have been greater,” he said.

Getty Images Douglas Ross Getty Images

Douglas Ross sent a message to the first minister during a visit to Michael Matheson’s constituency

After the committee’s findings were announced last Thursday, the first minister raised concerns about the integrity of the process.

Mr Swinney revealed he had repeatedly written to Mr Whitfield referencing comments from committee member Annie Wells, who had initially recommended the 27-day suspension.

In a letter sent in March, Mr Swinney highlighted a post on X in which Ms Wells said Mr Matheson had “misled parliament and lied to the media repeatedly”.

The 27-day suspension was backed by Tory colleague Oliver Mundell but SNP committee members Jackie Dunbar and Alasdair Allan disagreed with Mr Allan describing it as “extremely high” compared to sanctions in previous cases.

The deciding vote in favour was made by Mr Whitfield, who did not express a “personal view” but said the committee would otherwise have been unable to reach a recommendation.

By-election demands

Unlike at Westminster, where MPs can be removed by constituents if they are suspended for more than 10 days, there is no recall mechanism at Holyrood.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross tabled the motion declaring Mr Matheson should quit parliament and said a by-election could be held on 4 July, the same day as the general election.

During a visit to Mr Matheson’s constituency, he said the first minister had “staked his reputation” on the former health secretary.

“He would rather support his good friend than defend the integrity of parliament,” Mr Ross said.

“Michael Matheson lied to parliament, he lied to the presiding officer and, most importantly, he lied to the public.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton told BBC Scotland News that Mr Matheson should stand down and trigger a by-election.

“Michael Matheson has clearly lost the trust of the general public and the media. I think when that happens it’s impossible for him to represent his constituents to best effect.”

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