‘Saving Matheson’s skin’ would destroy public trust in MSPs, says Ross

Public trust in politics and politicians is “on the line” in Holyrood on Wednesday, the Scottish Tories have said, as the party pushes for Michael Matheson to resign.

The former health secretary has been under pressure to stand down as an MSP after a Scottish Parliament committee recommended he should be suspended for 27 days and have his salary stripped for 54 days.

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.

Douglas Ross
Douglas Ross said trust in politics was at stake (Andrew Milligan/PA)

On Wednesday, the Scottish Tories will force a vote on his 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”.

On the same day, it is understood Mr Matheson will face a vote of MSPs on the recommended sanctions.

Speaking ahead of the Holyrood 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.

“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.”

John Swinney
John Swinney described the process as ‘prejudiced’ (Michael Boyd/PA)

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

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

“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.”

His party, Mr Sarwar added, was “dedicated to cleaning up politics”, including by introducing a Bill that would include a recall process to sack suspended MSPs.

Following the announcement of the sanctions, First Minister John Swinney described the findings of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee as “prejudiced”.

Tory MSP Annie Wells, he said, had tainted the process through comments she made last year, describing Mr Matheson’s explanation as being “riddled with lies”.

Speaking to journalists on Monday as he campaigned in Dumfries ahead of the General Election, the First Minister said he had “deep concerns” about the process.

“I just feel I have got to point out something I think is wrong with the Parliamentary process,” he said.

“I don’t think it would say very much about me if I just turned a blind eye to something that in any other walk of life people would be raising deep concerns about.

“In any other field, if somebody prejudiced a process there would be enormous concern being raised and I don’t think it would say very much about me if I ignored that.”

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.”