Exclusive:Power to sack MSPs through recall petition needed in wake of Michael Matheson row, Ian Blackford says

Ian Blackford called for reform following a row over the Michael Matheson sanction

The ability to sack MSPs through a recall petition is “highly desirable” with Scottish Parliament governance in urgent need of reform, Ian Blackford has claimed.

The former SNP Westminster leader made the comments amid an ongoing row over the sanction faced by Michael Matheson over the iPad data scandal.

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MSPs voted for Mr Matheson to be suspended for 27 days and stripped of his salary for 54 days, following a Holyrood committee recommending the punishment after he racked up £11,000 in data fees while on a holiday in Morocco.

Michael Matheson has been suspended from Holyrood for 27 days. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty ImagesMichael Matheson has been suspended from Holyrood for 27 days. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Michael Matheson has been suspended from Holyrood for 27 days. Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

With SNP figures including the First Minister now questioning the integrity of the committee, and the Scottish Tories calling for a recall option, Mr Blackford said the existing system was “unprofessional”.

Speaking exclusively to The Scotsman, Mr Blackford also discussed the end of his leadership in Westminster, standing down as an MP and the challenges facing the SNP.

Asked about Mr Matheson, he said: “I’m a member of the committee of standards in public life and I've not commented on the Michael Matheson case, but I’ve watched very carefully what happened. Above all else, I’m embarrassed at the governance in the Scottish Parliament, and when I say that I mean, the procedures of the Scottish parliament to investigate complaints against members.

"It’s not professional, it doesn’t have the right checks or balances. It doesn’t protect the compliant or those being complained against. Also the recognition is if that process is conducted, it’s not being done with fairness. There is a real question about the hopes and dreams of a Scottish Parliament, even down to the horse shoe style so people could work together. But much of it is deeply political and not rooted in fairness and a structure that allows a proper process and accountability.

Former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has backed a recall petition for Holyrood.Former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has backed a recall petition for Holyrood.
Former SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford has backed a recall petition for Holyrood.

“I think the Scottish Parliament as a matter of urgency has to review its governance, and its rules and regulations for conduct. As part of that, I think a recall mechanism is highly desirable. It has to be on the basis of having the right recall in place”.

In Westminster, recall petitions allow voters to remove elected officials in certain circumstances. Former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier ultimately lost her Rutherglen and Hamilton seat in a by-election in October last year after a recall petition was triggered, linked to her 30-day suspension for making a trip to Westminster in breach of Covid regulations.

Mr Blackford, who now has a business role within the party, also discussed the SNP’s lacklustre polling ahead of the general election and how to turn it around.

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He said: “There is a big prize at stake. We’ve got a few weeks to have those conversations and win the public’s trust again. I know we face a big challenge.

Ian Blackford (right) has backed calls for a recall petition system for HolyroodIan Blackford (right) has backed calls for a recall petition system for Holyrood
Ian Blackford (right) has backed calls for a recall petition system for Holyrood

“Have we governed well in the past years in the main, and can we show people what’s at stake? When you think about not having tuition fees, when you think about the free bus pass for young people, the free personal care, there’s a sense that maybe we’ve let the narrative move away from us. My message to the Scottish people is ‘yes we are listening and yes, we will protect their interests’.”

Mr Blackford said part of this was bringing back those who supported independence, but had lost faith in the SNP.

He said: “For those that are expressing support for independence, what we’ve got to do is show a vision of what an independent Scotland would really look like. We’ve got to show why it’s an absolute necessity to get to that destination and about making the lives of others better.

"Contrast and compare where Ireland is with a budget surplus, without any of the natural resources we have. We have to spell out how we will drive the Scottish economy, make Scotland a destination and show off our academic excellence. Independence needs to be the settled goal, to deliver a brighter future.”

Turning to his own legacy, Mr Blackford expressed regret that some SNP MPs felt they needed a change of leader and that he saw working with others as a crucial part of the role.

He said: “It was an enormous privilege to be the SNP Westminster leader for five-and-a-half years, and I was all very clear about how I saw the role, working hand in glove with the first minister, and we were the support act.

"I can reflect that for some MPs, they wanted a slightly different style.”

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There was also praise for former prime minister Theresa May, who had embraced the former SNP Westminster leader in the Commons after they both gave their final speeches as MPs.

Calling for more civility in politics, Mr Blackford said: “I worry about where we are in politics. You can see the disdain [Sir Keir] Starmer and [Rishi] Sunak have for each other. Yes, people can celebrate their political differences, but if we can’t still get along, we are poorer for that.

"I have very clear differences with Theresa May, but I'd never disrespect her as a person. Her chief-of-staff Gavin Barwell said ‘you actually get on, but when you get in the chamber, you knock nine bells out of each other’, but that’s the job.

"What I will say about Theresa May is she always behaved in a respectful and professional manner. You think about Salisbury, what was happening in Syria at the time. She always made sure I had access to the national security advisor, so I could do the job.”

Speaking in the week of the first UK TV leaders’ debate, Mr Blackford said he wasn’t impressed by either candidate and criticised the standard of debate in Britain.

He said: “I’m not sure it added anything to the general public. It was very shouty, but I’m not sure in terms of the issues voters are confronting it will have added any great knowledge to anyone. There wasn’t a single mention of Scotland at all.

“What really depresses me from the election campaign is that there isn't honesty about the challenges we face. We all want to see investment in public services, but that’s only going to happen if we grow the economy. The UK has been in the slow lane since the financial crisis. Until we understand the challenges of getting to things like net zero, and the extraordinary opportunity to tap into our natural resources and get the funding and support for the supply chain, we’re going to be stuck here.”

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