Leader Comment: Michael Matheson needs to make his case

Michael Matheson.
Michael Matheson.
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Justice Secretary Michael Matheson has hardly covered himself in glory over his involvement in the case of Scotland’s Chief Constable, Phil Gormley.

The Police Scotland chief – currently suspended over bullying allegations – was due recently to return to work on the say-so of the Scottish Police Authority until Mr Matheson allegedly intervened.

That incident was enough for opposition politicians to raise perfectly legitimate questions about whether the Justice Secretary’s behaviour was appropriate.

A new allegation from the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner, Kate Frame, that an official in the Scottish Government’s Police Division tried to undermine her independence has led those same opposition politicians to now demand Mr Matheson’s resignation. We may not have reached this pass, yet, but it is perfectly clear that the Justice Secretary has damage to repair.

Police Scotland has been rocked by a series of scandals since its establishment in 2013. Public faith in the institution was already shaky before Mr Gormley’s suspension and its subsequent fall-out.

The failure of Government officials to minute meetings at which sensitive matters of staff discipline were discussed has helped create the impression that the line between necessary confidentiality and intolerable secrecy has become very badly blurred, indeed.

While First Minister Nicola Sturgeon may publicly declare her faith in Mr Matheson, she must recognise his credibility has suffered.

A statement from the Scottish Government about the email exchange between Ms Frame and Don McGillivray of the Police Division states that ministers had no involvement. That, bluntly, is not good enough. The buck does not stop with a civil servant but with Mr Matheson. He may not have written the email to Ms Frame but it was sent on his watch.

Police Scotland requires a period of stability and it requires it now.

The Justice Secretary must surely realise that he is responsible for doubts that currently exist and, if he does, he must accept that it is down to him to change the damaging perception that he is playing by his own, ever-changing set of rules.

Michael Matheson may not yet have to resign but he’d be advised to quickly start making the case for why he should remain as Justice Secretary.