Swinney defends decision to challenge ‘prejudiced’ Matheson probe sanction

John Swinney has defended his decision to challenge the sanction ordered against his colleague Michael Matheson, saying the process on a Holyrood committee was “damaged” by “prejudice” from one of its members.

Holyrood’s Standards Committee backed a 27-day suspension for Mr Matheson following the row over a near-£11,000 data roaming bill on his parliamentary iPad.

But the First Minister said he did not support the cross-party committee’s sanction as one of its members, Conservative Annie Wells, had previously made critical comments about Mr Matheson’s explanation for the bill, which Mr Swinney believes therefore prejudiced the decision.

The Conservatives have said voters will punish Mr Swinney for his “shameful defence” of his former ministerial colleague.

First Minister’s Questions
The Scottish Conservatives said voters would punish the First Minister (Andrew Milligan/PA)

On Saturday, the SNP leader visited a number of constituencies around Scotland during the party’s first “day of action” for the General Election campaign.

Speaking to journalists, he said: “I’m not going to have prejudice taken forward in any part of Scottish life, it shouldn’t happen in the Scottish Parliament.”

He noted that another Conservative MSP had withdrawn from the Standards Committee due to previous comments about Mr Matheson, adding: “We cannot have our national parliament presiding over prejudice and certainly not prejudice from the Conservatives.”

Asked if Ms Wells’ comment had undermined the entire committee’s decision, he said: “I think when you bring prejudice into a process, you have to recognise the process is damaged as a consequence.

“Now parliament will sort out these issues, it will address these issues as it considers the (committee’s) report.”

He acknowledged that Mr Matheson had “made mistakes” and had faced consequences.

Mr Swinney also responded to criticism of the SNP from Patrick Harvie, co-leader of the Scottish Greens.

Scotland power sharing agreement
Patrick Harvie said the SNP were ‘trying to face both ways’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

Mr Harvie, who left the Scottish Government last month when the two parties’ powersharing deal was ended by Humza Yousaf, said the SNP are “trying to face both ways on climate and the fossil fuel industry”.

The First Minister said he wanted to see a just transition to net zero, and the government would be giving its response to a draft energy strategy.

He backed a “balanced approach to energy transition that will get us to net zero but will get us there in a way that supports our economy”.

Mr Swinney commented on the fact his Westminster leader, Stephen Flynn, recently cancelled a trip to Germany to see Scotland play in the Euros, saying “I’m really pleased he’s going to be working so hard”.

Mr Swinney said he is still exploring whether he can go to any Scotland games in the tournament and is particularly keen on the Germany match, but added: “We’ll have to see what the lie of the land is”.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “John Swinney’s shameless attempts to defend the indefensible shows how deep the rot is in the SNP.

“The SNP has sank to new depths as it once again puts its own party interest ahead of the national interest.

“Both the SNP and the Tories are too mired in scandal and sleaze to deliver for the people of Scotland.

“Only Labour can deliver the change Scotland needs, and the General Election is our chance to do that.”