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Humza Yousaf continues to defend Michael Matheson after resignation

The First Minister has stood by his former health secretary | Alamy

Humza Yousaf continues to defend Michael Matheson after resignation

First Minister Humza Yousaf has continued to defend his now former health secretary over claims of dishonesty following a scathing attack from the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

In a tetchy session of First Minister’s Questions, during which Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone repeatedly warned the Conservative front bench about its discourteous behaviour, Tory leader Douglas Ross called Michael Matheson “dishonest”, questioned why Yousaf had previously said he was a “man of integrity and honesty”, and asked why the first minister continued to act as a “human shield” for the former cabinet secretary.

Matheson, who last year became embroiled in scandal after running up an £11,000 bill on his parliamentary iPad, resigned from government this morning, citing a soon-to-be-released report from the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body into his handling of the situation.

The MSP for Falkirk West repeatedly resisted calls for him to step down last year, with Yousaf also refusing to sack him, saying his honesty should not be called into question.

Speaking in the chamber today, Yousaf conceded that Matheson had “made a mistake” but noted that he had apologised for that and had “served this parliament, served his country, served in the government for years”.

As the iPad scandal unfolded last year Matheson, who had originally claimed the bill on expenses, was forced to pay back the money.

He also made a statement to parliament in which he admitted that the large data-roaming charge was incurred by his children watching football and not by him doing constituency work as he had originally said.

Ross claimed that Matheson had been “dishonest” throughout the saga and that by “backing him to the hilt” Yousaf had left his own “reputation in tatters”.

“He looks weak,” Ross said. “Now trust in this government is gone, the SNP’s credibility is gone, Michael Matheson is gone, but Humza Yousaf the human shield is still here, defending him.”

Yousaf continued to stand by his former health secretary, claiming he has “helped to achieve a recovery of our NHS”, which he said was in “very stark contrast” to what the Conservative government at Westminster has done.

Labour leader Anas Sarwar criticised the first minister for spending months “battling” to keep Matheson as health secretary but said that “swapping one failing SNP minister for another” will not solve “the crisis in our NHS [that] has been 17 years in the making”.

“While the government pretends there is no crisis, and they have it all under control, that is not the experience for patients across the country,” Sarwar said.

Sarwar asked Yousaf if he knew how many people had died before they could reach an A&E department after calling an ambulance last year.

Yousaf said he did not have the numbers to hand but that his government had “brought forward a recovery plan that is helping the NHS” and is “putting additional resources into the ambulance service”.

In response, Sarwar said waiting lists had gone up since the recovery plan was published, with “over 800,000 of our fellow Scots [on] an NHS waiting list while he dithers around looking for a decent stat”.

He added that 12,000 people had died after calling an ambulance last year, saying “that is up from just over 7,100 in 2019, an increase of over 70 per cent in just four years”.

“Many of these people may have survived if an ambulance could have reached them sooner, or they could have been admitted to hospital more quickly,” he said.

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