Michael Matheson's £11,000 iPad expenses bill: Health Secretary who put his sons at centre of this storm is a scoundrel – Jackie Baillie

Michael Matheson’s conduct in the row over his iPad data roaming bill has shown he is unfit to be Scotland’s Health Secretary

There are many questions still to be answered in the Michael Matheson scandal. The lack of transparency by the SNP has been astonishing. They have even corralled parliamentary journalists into a makeshift sheep pen, lest the Health Secretary suffer earache as they try to hold him to account.

Behind the claims from his friend, the First Minister, that he is a “man of integrity”, Mr Matheson has proved to be as slippery as an eel with the truth. That there now is a Holyrood investigation is to be welcomed, but it is much too little and much too late.

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The outstanding questions for Mr Matheson relate to out-of-date SIM cards, tethered devices, and whether he watched the Scottish football games with his sons in Morocco. But aside from that, what about the security of a parliamentary device containing sensitive constituent information? What about the steps he took back in February when confronted with the detail of the data usage?

And there is a much more simple question: at what precise moment did Mr Matheson think it was fine to submit a claim of £11,000 to the public purse, regardless of how the bill had been racked up? Did he not ask himself the most basic of questions, like how would this look on the front page of a national newspaper? Or how would his constituents, experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, understand a £11,000 bill? Or did a sense of invulnerable entitlement lead him to conclude that, with no "clear explanation" of how the fees could have been incurred, it was simply OK to let the taxpayer shoulder the burden?

It may seem staggering that it took until November 10, at the height of the public outcry, after reflecting "long and hard", that he should himself pay the bill. Did he think that this would be the end of it? And with so many months between racking up the bill in December and it being reported in November, why could he not get his story straight?

Confronted with uncomfortable reality, Mr Matheson misled from the get-go. Asked directly if there was “any personal use” of the device, Mr Matheson told reporters “no”. Yet, in his personal statement to Holyrood, Mr Matheson admitted he had learned four days earlier that his sons used the iPad. He knowingly misled the press, the public and his colleagues.

It took social media less than five minutes to work out what had happened when his data usage was published but Mr Matheson had no idea for months. As a parent, I understand the desire to protect our children. Perhaps if instead of blaming them he had resigned, he would have provided them with that protection. As it is, he has put them at the centre of a storm of his making. The last shield of the scoundrel has fallen away.

Meanwhile, there is a health service to run and we have a Health Secretary with his eye off the ball as another winter crisis looms. Our hospitals, patients and heath staff are not half as invulnerable as Mr Matheson feels. They need someone in charge who really does have integrity and honesty, not someone in whom these qualities are sadly missing.

Jackie Baillie is MSP for Dumbarton, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and her party’s spokesperson for health



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