Complaint over Tory MSP tweet labelling John Swinney 'devious' thrown out by Holyrood's standards committee

A complaint over a “vile offensive” tweet describing Deputy First Minister John Swinney as a “devious, unscrupulous, manipulative little man” sent by a former Conservative MSP has been dismissed by Holyrood’s standards committee.

Martin Whitfield, the convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s standards committee, announced on Thursday morning that a complaint from two women about the tweet sent by Adam Tomkins did not breach the code of conduct for MSPs.

This is despite the acting commissioner for ethical standards in public life in Scotland, Ian Bruce, concluding the post did breach the code of conduct.

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Adam Tomkins, a former MSP, has had a complaint about his conduct dismissed by the standards committee.

Mr Bruce had concluded Mr Tomkins had breached the code of conduct “in relation to courtesy and respect”.

However, MSPs on the standards committee said the link between the tweet and Mr Tomkins’ parliamentary duties as an MSP was “not sufficiently established”.

The committee said it would now look at whether changes to the code of conduct for MSPs were needed to potentially tighten or clarify the rules around social media posts.

The tweet, which sparked the complaint, was sent just before 6:30pm on March 1, 2021 amid demands from MSPs for the Scottish Government to publish legal advice around the judicial review brought against it by former first minister Alex Salmond.

The Government had refused to publish the advice, citing legal privilege, despite several votes of Parliament demanding its release.

In the tweet, Mr Tomkins posted: “Swinney does the right thing not because it’s the right thing to do but only because it’ll save his neck. Devious unscrupulous manipulative little man.”

During the investigation by the standards committee, Mr Tomkins defended his conduct and doubled down on his description of the MSP, adding Mr Swinney had “belittled both himself and his office”.

He claimed the words “can be defended as part of the robust exchange of political views that took place” and were not “discourteous or disrespectful”.

However, the commissioner described them as “gratuitous, personal and derogatory”.

Mr Bruce said he was not convinced by Mr Tomkins “post hoc argument” the reference to Mr Swinney as a “little man” was a refence to the SNP figure belittling himself, nor was he convinced the tweet was “intended to convey that Mr Swinney was discourteous and disrespectful of the Scottish Parliament”.

However, this was rejected by the committee, with convener Martin Whitfield stating the MSP’s code of conduct “specifically excludes members’ private and family life and members expressing their political views”.

He said: “On balance, the committee concluded that a link between the tweet in question and the member’s parliamentary duties was not sufficiently established.

“The guidance on the Code of Conduct makes it clear that its provisions in relation to how members conduct themselves apply in relation to activity on social media, subject to the overall scope of the code.

"The committee recognises, however, that there may be value in reviewing the guidance.”

Responding to the ruling on Twitter, Mr Tomkins described the complaint as a “nonsense”, labelling it “ludicrous”.

He said: “Now this complaint has been dismissed I can finally talk about it. It is LUDICROUS that in Scotland, opposition politicians can be investigated for months for doing the job of criticising government politicians.”

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