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by Louise Wilson
23 May 2024
John Swinney election campaign launch overshadowed by Michael Matheson row

John Swinney election campaign launch overshadowed by Michael Matheson row

First Minister John Swinney has continued to defend former health secretary Michael Matheson even as the row threatened to overshadow his general election campaign launch.

He said the parliament “is in danger of falling into disrepute” over the matter, pointing to his earlier claim at FMQs that the process had been “prejudiced”.

The parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee recommended that Matheson be suspended for 27 sitting days and have his salary withdrawn for 54 days.

While members were unanimous on the latter sanction, the SNP members of the committee voted against the exclusion period, arguing it was too long.

At the launch of his party’s general election campaign in central Edinburgh, Swinney said Matheson was “a good man who made a mistake”.

And he reiterated his belief that the parliament would be damaging its own reputation if it proceeded to implement the recommended sanction.

Making his first speech since the 4 July election was called by the prime minister on Wednesday, the SNP leader said that “never has a government deserved to lose more than Rishi Sunak’s government”. He added that the SNP was the main challenger to the Conservatives in all the seats which currently have Tory MPs.

And while acknowledging that Labour currently had a sizeable lead over the Tories in the polls, he warned that the “only guaranteed outcome of a Labour Government is the Tory government that will follow it”.

He added: “In an independent Scotland, never again will people here be subjected to an unelected Tory government.”

The SNP’s current policy is to put independence at the forefront of its campaign, with line one of its manifesto to read: “Vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.”

The Scottish Conservatives are set to formally launch their campaign on Thursday evening, with Douglas Ross and Rishi Sunak to visit the Highlands.

Scottish Labour will launch its campaign on Friday, with Anas Sarwar and Keir Starmer to address activists in the central belt.

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