Michael Matheson scandal shows why Scotland needs a Westminster-style democratic revolution – Jackie Baillie

Scottish Labour would introduce a right for constituents to recall MSPs, which already exists for MPs

Maybe the SNP thought they were picking the right dude in John Swinney as their latest leader. Instead, it turns out they chose a right dud. The First Minister’s extraordinary defence of his pal Michael Matheson, the former Health Secretary who attempted to take £11,000 of taxpayers’ money and then lied about it, will leave SNP members in despair as they try to summon the courage to face voters on the doorstep.

Swinney’s rejection of the proposed sanction by the parliament’s Standards Committee into Matheson’s chicanery was a display of the entitled arrogance which has sustained SNP ministers in office for 17 years, as they presided over the decline of Scotland’s economy, education standards and public services.

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To recap, Matheson was caught bang to rights for claiming an £11,000 roaming data bill for using his parliamentary iPad while on holiday in Morocco. Questioned by officials in the parliament four times, according to the subsequent investigation, he insisted it was a legitimate parliamentary expense. Matheson wanted the public to pay rather than admit an honest error or an expensive indulgence. He rejected, deflected, and eventually dumped on his own family for running up the bill by watching an Old Firm football match while abroad.

Michael Matheson has resisted calls to resign as an MSP after claiming nearly £11,000 on expenses for an iPad data roaming bill run up on holiday in Morocco (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Michael Matheson has resisted calls to resign as an MSP after claiming nearly £11,000 on expenses for an iPad data roaming bill run up on holiday in Morocco (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Michael Matheson has resisted calls to resign as an MSP after claiming nearly £11,000 on expenses for an iPad data roaming bill run up on holiday in Morocco (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
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The court of public opinion made its mind up on Matheson months ago but the parliament formally reported on his behaviour last week. The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee recommended excluding Matheson from parliament for 27 sitting days and that he should lose his salary for 54 days.

Insult to voters’ intelligence

The ruling was damning, the episode another sorry chapter for an SNP government collapsing under the weight of its own sleaze. But Swinney attempted to argue that the process was unfair and the sanction was too hard. That simply ignores the plain-as-day conclusions that Matheson misled parliament and the people of Scotland, and claimed public money for personal use. This was a calculated snub to parliament and an insult to the intelligence of voters. In any other line of work, you would be sacked.

Matheson has treated the public with contempt and Swinney has compounded that attitude, a shining example of party first, country second. The risible defence that Matheson had repaid the outstanding bill, with “no cost to the public purse” would be laughed at by any defence lawyer. It amounts to: “My friend did took money from you but, when caught, he repaid the sum and so should face no other sanction.”

Cleaning up Holyrood

It cannot be right that an MSP can ride roughshod over the rules without the public getting a chance to have their say. Scottish Labour would introduce a right for constituents to recall MSPs, which already exists for Westminster MPs, as part of our plans to clean up Holyrood.

Scotland needs change at Westminster and Holyrood – and Scottish Labour is ready to deliver it. The chaotic, scandal-hit SNP cannot deliver for the people of Scotland. Swinney can’t deliver that because he’s been at the heart of the SNP for decades.

He only offers continuity and we all know continuity won’t cut it. People are seeing the SNP leader defending sleaze when they could have Scottish Labour MPs delivering change. That’s what you get by electing Scottish Labour MPs on July 4.

Jackie Baillie is MSP is Scottish Labour’s deputy leader

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