Michael Matheson: Big questions for Humza Yousaf after health secretary’s inevitable resignation

The First Minister allowed this debacle to drag on for months

Michael Matheson's resignation was inevitable. The only surprise is that it took so long.

The health secretary's position was unsustainable from the moment it emerged he had misled the media, and by extension the Scottish public, about the huge bill racked up on his Holyrood iPad while he was on a family holiday in Morocco.

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The £11,000 bill was initially picked up by taxpayers, but Mr Matheson agreed to reimburse the cost amid a growing outcry. In an emotional statement to Holyrood in mid November, he then revealed it was incurred after his teenage sons used the iPad as a hotspot to stream football.

Michael MathesonMichael Matheson
Michael Matheson

Mr Matheson said he had only discovered the truth the week before, and had made no reference to the revelation in the following days in order to protect his children.

“As a parent, I wanted to protect [my sons] from being part of the political and media scrutiny associated with this, something I believe any parent would want to do,” he told MSPs. “I am a father first and foremost.”

A laudable motivation, perhaps. The problem was that, in doing so, he lied.

Just days before that statement in November, Mr Matheson was asked by The Scotsman if there had been any personal use of the iPad. He said no, despite knowing by this point that his sons had used it to watch football on other devices.

If Mr Matheson had resigned then, around the time of that Holyrood statement, there might have been a way back. Instead, both he and First Minister Humza Yousaf allowed this debacle to drag on for months, pointlessly.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body launched a probe into the cost last year.

This has now concluded, but Mr Matheson jumped ship before even seeing a copy of the draft report. Presumably he was not confident of exoneration – or maybe he just couldn’t face another battering in the media.

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There are now big questions about Mr Yousaf’s political judgment. He stood by his health secretary throughout, calling him a man of integrity and honesty. In mid November, he insisted a line had been drawn under the matter. How’s that going?

To say this has been badly handled from the beginning feels like an understatement.

During First Minister’s Questions in Holyrood, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross stuck the boot in. “Humza Yousaf’s own reputation is in tatters over this scandal,” he said. “He looks weak.”

Meanwhile, Mr Matheson – who has been an MSP since the dawn of devolution and has held multiple ministerial roles – faces being best remembered as “that iPad guy”. No one would blame him for feeling a bit sore about that.

And spare a thought for his sons, too.

The cost incurred by that fateful decision to stream a football match while on holiday in Morocco will be more than just financial. At least, in the fullness of time, it will make for a cracking story at family gatherings.



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