Nicola Sturgeon urged to back or sack suspended MSP Mark McDonald

Nicola Sturgeon is under growing pressure to back or sack the suspended MSP Mark McDonald as he continues to be absent from Holyrood while being investigated over his inappropriate behaviour.

Mark McDonald, pictured with Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond in 2013, has failed to attend parliament since his resignation as a junior minister in November. Photograph: Universal News And Sport

Last night the Scottish Conservatives said it was now time for the SNP leader and the former Children’s Minister to decide whether he continues as the MSP for Aberdeen Donside.

McDonald resigned from the Scottish Government back in November after admitting inappropriate behaviour. He has since been suspended from the SNP and his conduct is the subject of a party investigation.

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He has failed to attend parliament since his resignation as a junior minister, although he has been seen at his constituency office.

If McDonald were to resign as a MSP it would trigger a by-election for his seat.

Last night the Conservative MSP for Aberdeenshire West Alexander Burnett said: “It’s now over three months since Mark McDonald was in Parliament. He and the SNP have dragged this on for far too long.

“It’s time he and Nicola Sturgeon decided one way or the other.

“Either he comes back in the next week or he should resign and let someone else represent the people of Aberdeen Donside.

“The Nationalists love to preach to others about how to go about their business, yet when it comes to themselves, they go silent. Enough – it’s high time they sorted this out.”

Last week McDonald was embroiled in further controversy when it emerged that he is entitled to a £7,270 “golden goodbye” after quitting as a minister. Under the Scottish Parliamentary Pensions Act 2009, as a departing junior minister he is entitled to one quarter of the extra £29,083 he received on top of his £62,000 MSP’s salary for serving in the government.

McDonald is automatically entitled for the payment despite the circumstances of his departure from ministerial office.

Departing ministers are allowed the payment 90 days after they quit.

His eligibility for the payment has caused anger and this week the issue will be raised at a meeting of the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body, the group of MSPs responsible for running Holyrood.

McDonald quit on 4 November last year after admitting he caused a woman “considerable distress”.

He apologised for “inappropriate” behaviour towards others, though he suggested it was a misguided attempt at humour.

Immediately after his resignation, Sturgeon said his behaviour was of a kind “that some others may well have thought was not serious enough to resign”.

A week later, however, McDonald admitted his action had caused “considerable distress and upset”.

After a second claim, McDonald was suspended by the SNP on November 16, losing the parliamentary whip.

The claims against McDonald include allegations he sent a text message to a woman that included reference to a sex act.

There have since been reports that a young woman has complained to party bosses claiming she woke up in the MSP’s hotel room bed – but could not remember how she got there.

According to reports, McDonald had told the woman that he would “look after her”. There is no suggestion of any criminality.

Private investigators are now looking into the allegations made against the 37-year-old.

A report will then be submitted to party chiefs who will decide on the MSP’s future.

A spokesperson for the SNP said:  “Mr McDonald is currently suspended from the SNP. An independent investigation is ongoing and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”