Matheson's refusal to quit - despite record suspension - set to overshadow SNP election campaign

Michael Matheson faces a 27 day suspension from Holyrood. Pic: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesMichael Matheson faces a 27 day suspension from Holyrood. Pic: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Michael Matheson faces a 27 day suspension from Holyrood. Pic: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Michael Matheson has refused to quit as an MSP despite being subject to Holyrood’s longest-ever suspension.

Michael Matheson is set to continue overshadowing the SNP general election campaign after he refused to quit despite being handed down the longest Holyrood suspension in history for his £11,000 iPad data roaming saga.

MSPs voted yesterday in favour of stripping Mr Matheson of his salary for 54 calendar days and to suspend him for 27 sitting days. They also agreed constituents should have the power to recall their MSPs and to launch an inquiry into standards processes.

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The Falkirk West MSP has apologised, but insisted he looks forward to “continuing to represent the people of Falkirk West, as I have done for many years”.First Minister John Swinney also backed his beleaguered MSP, stressing he should “continue to serve the people that sent him here”.

The suspension takes effect from today, after 64 MSPs voted to back the recommendations of the Standards Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, while none voted against and 63 abstained.The speculation over Mr Matheson’s future hung over the SNP as it launched its general election campaign last week. But the saga is expected to remain an election issue after Mr Matheson said he would remain an MSP but accept the punishment handed to him.

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SNP MSP Michael Matheson suspended for record 27 days over iPad expenses saga

Mr Swinney told journalists he does not think Mr Matheson should resign as an MSP.He said: “He made a mistake and has been given a punishment by Parliament which I accept unreservedly. Michael should accept that punishment and continue to serve the people that sent him here.“Parliament has accepted this is appropriate and I accept what Parliament has said.”The First Minister also signalled support for a system that would give the public the chance to recall their MSPs, adding: “I don’t think the arrangements here are currently adequate.”

An SNP amendment which criticised Tory member of the committee Annie Wells for comments she made about Mr Matheson before she voted on the issue was passed by 68 votes to 56 with two abstentions. The amendment also called for an “independent review” of the complaints process in Holyrood.

SNP Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes told MSPs that "breaches like this should be proportionately sanctioned” as her party opposed the punishment being handed down to Mr Matheson.

She added: “Michael Matheson has paid back the roaming costs and there’s been no cost to the public purse.

“His actions have had consequences – he has lost his Cabinet position despite being one of the longest serving ministers of this Parliament.

“He’s faced considerable reputational damage and significant intrusion in his personal life.”

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But the Scottish Conservatives, who have also called for the former health secretary to quit as an MSP, accused Mr Matheson of a “deliberate and shameless attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of this Parliament”.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross added: “This is not a harmless mistake that some have attempted to present.

“This was a deliberate and shameless attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of this Parliament and the public. It is an open and shut case.”

The decision came amid accusations from the SNP that Ms Wells had prejudiced the process by commenting on the case before the committee of which she is a member, had finalised its conclusion. The committee convener, Martin Whitfield, told Holyrood the panel will “reflect generally” on the process, but added: “These reflections do not evidence any concern we have that the process followed up to this point was not adequate or correct.”

The row surrounds Ms Wells, who made comments about Mr Matheson’s conduct despite being a member of the committee that investigated his behaviour and helped determine the proposed punishment.

Mr Swinney has claimed the whole process needs reviewed. But the Scottish Conservative leader accused the First Minister of “bully boy” tactics that would “make Donald Trump blush”.

Mr Ross added: “It is disgusting and disgraceful behaviour that demeans the office of First Minister because he has targeted members of an independent committee in this parliament and is attempting to undermine due process with his bully boy tactics.”

Scottish Labour has also criticised the SNP for abstaining on the crunch vote and not backing the committee’s recommended punishment for Mr Matheson.

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Scottish Labour deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, said: “Yet again this sleaze-hit SNP government has put pals and party before their principles and undermined the Scottish Parliament for political purposes.

“Faced with the opportunity to finally do the right thing the SNP has – as always – failed Scots and made excuses for appalling behaviour. John Swinney is no fresh leader – he is the embodiment of 17 years of SNP chaos, sleaze and impunity.

“We cannot have rogue MSPs getting away with acting as Michael Matheson has – we need a right to recall so that the people can have their say.”

The saga has overshadowed the first week of the SNP’s general election campaign. The Conservatives have raised it repeatedly and Mr Swinney’s various campaign events have centred around questions about Mr Matheson.

But there was yet more confusion from the SNP ahead of the debate and vote at Holyrood on the sanctions proposed for Mr Matheson.

On Tuesday evening, an amendment tabled to a motion backing the suspension in the name of Kate Forbes called for “an independent review of the parliament’s complaints process to restore integrity and confidence in the parliament and its procedures” but crucially didn’t oppose the sanctions.

But on Wednesday morning, Mr Swinney told the BBC that he “won’t be supporting the sanctions that are put in place” - throwing into double whether the SNP will vote in favour of its own amendment in a final vote. There was further confusion ahead of the vote when Mr Swinney told journalists they would have to “wait and see” what happened, insisting the Holyrood debate needed to take place first.

This opened up the SNP to more accusations that “John Swinney seems to have u-turned on his U-turn”, as Mr Ross put it.

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Mr Ross added: “Confusion and chaos were the hallmark of Humza Yousaf’s time as First Minister and John Swinney is doing more of the same. The supposedly safe pair of hands has dropped the ball big time.”

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