Michael Matheson iPad expenses row: Health secretary's position teeters on the brink after extraordinary Scottish Parliament statement
In an extraordinary personal statement to Holyrood, one unlikely to be forgotten quickly, one of Humza Yousaf’s closest allies and friends tearfully admitted lying to the public and the press over an £11,000 data roaming expenses bill.
His children, Mr Matheson told MSPs, had used the hotspot on his parliamentary iPad to watch the football while on holiday in Morocco, with more than £8,000 spent in roaming charges in just one day.
According to his account, he only discovered this on Thursday last week after his attempts to force the taxpayer to foot the bill hit the headlines.
On Friday, he agreed to pay the full bill out of pocket. That, his party colleagues hoped, was the end of the matter.
However, on Tuesday he spoke to the First Minister after a meeting of Cabinet and admitted he had not told the whole truth.
Mr Yousaf gave him a day to get his story straight. The result was an unprecedented statement to MSPs during which he appeared close to an understandable emotional breakdown.
The story the public is expected to believe is that one of Scotland’s most senior politicians did not know his own children were watching the football while on a family holiday in Morocco; that he did not think to investigate further when the £11,000 bill landed; and that he isn’t simply throwing his family under the bus to protect his job.
Choosing to protect your family is an understandable choice, but it is one that has left Mr Matheson’s reputation in tatters.
Mr Matheson is viewed by many as an effective, if uninspiring, government minister and operator, and with a lack of ministerial talent, it is also understandable why the SNP sought to shut this story down.
But the truth – and the truth matters in politics, or at least it should – is that Mr Matheson lied.
When asked on Monday by The Scotsman whether the iPad had been used for personal use, he responded with an unambiguous “no”. That, we now know, was a lie.
SNP sources claim Mr Matheson’s future is now at the whim of the Parliament and whether opposition parties show him any forgiveness.
One told The Scotsman: “Michael Matheson just threw himself on the mercy of the chamber, and we're about to find out if they have any."
But this has also been a test of Mr Yousaf’s leadership. It is one that could be argued he has failed.
While resignation was not offered by Mr Matheson, it is arguable that it should have been demanded when it became apparent the First Minister had been forced to defend a false account.
Mr Yousaf initially claimed the expense was “legitimate”, that his colleague should not pay the money back, and stated only on Wednesday the matter was “closed”. At First Minister’s Questions, he defended his health secretary as an man of honesty and integrity.
But he, like the press and public, was lied to.
Mr Yousaf will now face significant pressure to force Mr Matheson’s hand. The position of the health secretary teeters on the brink.
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