The messages the now shamed former Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, sent to a 16-year-old boy are disturbing and damning.
The persistent “heys” – which received no response – the “waving-hand” emojis, the asking for the deletion of one text in which he said the boy was “cute”, the offering of dinner and a trip to a rugby event at the Scottish Parliament, all of them are alarming. As is the very fact that he struck up the conversation with this boy apparently “out of the blue”.
However the message which struck me cold was “and our chats are between us”. Those six words are, to my mind, incriminating. They say Mr Mackay knew precisely what he was doing and what he was doing was wrong so it must be kept secret. Then there was “don’t patch me”, which as a parent of any teen will tell you, is the current slang for ignoring someone, showing perhaps, that Mr Mackay was “down with the kids”, that the 26-year age gap between him and the boy should be as nothing.
The teenager involved and his family are, I hope, getting the support they need. Support for what happened, but also for the political earthquake revealing these messages has provoked.
For once again, Nicola Sturgeon had to stand up in Holyrood and say one of her MSPs, indeed one of her Government ministers, had been suspended from her party because of inappropriate conduct.
Of course Mr Mackay is not the first man to rise to a position of political power only to pull the detonator on his own career. He was talked of as a potential replacement for Nicola Sturgeon, and his fall from grace will undoubtedly have hurt her personally as well as leaving a gaping hole in her successorship.
Is it pressure? Is such risky behaviour, such a lack of judgement, a way of blowing off steam? For there can be no doubt that he knew this was career-ending stuff should he be caught. Or is it just heady arrogance? The invitation to the boy to attend a reception at Holyrood as his guest, reeks of such an attitude – as does his apparent carelessness of others. Mr Mackay’s actions not only impact on the boy concerned but also his current partner and his former wife and two children. It will be an incredibly tough time for them all.
The police are now assessing the media reports to determine whether they should be involved, but while this whole case is immensely distasteful has Mr Mackay broken any laws? His actions might smack of the kind of “online grooming” which has led to prosecutions, but the child involved is 16, and therefore at the age of consent. However, the Children and Young Person’s (Scotland) Act, defines a child as someone under 18, and indeed the Government’s – now abandoned – plans for a Named Person for every child, would also have involved children to the age of 18.
There is then, an obvious grey area then when it comes to child protection and when a child is, and is not, considered as such in the eyes of the law, and clarity needs to be forthcoming from the Government.
What is more black and white is that Mr Mackay abused his hugely powerful position. He attempted to influence a child, tried to get him to meet with him, with the intention of dining, if not wining, him. The imbalance in age, experience and status between him and the 16-year-old is writ large in the short texts. It is right he quit. He should now resign as an MSP too.