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by Louise Wilson
29 May 2024
Michael Matheson suspended from Holyrood for record 27 days

Michael Matheson has been suspended following a parliamentary vote | Alamy

Michael Matheson suspended from Holyrood for record 27 days

The Scottish Parliament has agreed to suspend Michael Matheson for 27 sitting days despite the SNP not backing the sanction.

The former health secretary will also have his salary withdrawn for 54 days for breaching the MSP code of conduct and expenses rules.

The suspension takes effect from Thursday. Matheson will not be able to return until late September.

A total of 64 MSPs backed the suspension recommended by the parliament’s standards committee, while 63 MSPs abstained.

The SNP refused to back the recommendations of the cross-party group due to concerns about process and length of exclusion.

Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes said breaches should be “proportionately sanctioned” and Matheson had already suffered the consequences of his action in losing his cabinet position and an “intrusion” into his personal life.

She said the involvement of any member who had made public comments about a case “clearly prejudges the complaint and the sanction”, and she called for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) to review the complaints process.

The SNP has said Tory MSP Annie Wells should have recused herself from deliberations as she had made public comments about Matheson before the issue came to the committee.

However, other parties highlighted the committee was tasked with deciding the sanction and it was the SPCB that had found Matheson had breached parliamentary rules.

An amendment put forward by Forbes, which reflected those concerns, passed with the support of SNP and Green members. The result was 68 votes for, 56 against and two abstentions.

But the SNP abstained on the vote on the final amended motion that initiates Matheson’s exclusion.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused the SNP of attempting to “derail and undermine due process” to “protect one of their own”. He added: “Michael Matheson has failed the public and failed the parliament. His actions are indefensible.”

Ross also criticised the SNP’s amendment and First Minister John Swinney for singling out Wells. He said: “The actions of the first minister towards my colleague Annie Wells would make Donald Trump blush.

“It is disgusting and disgraceful behaviour that demeans the office of first minister because he has targeted members of an independent committee of this parliament and is attempting to undermine due process with his bullyboy tactics.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said Matheson had demonstrated “denial, deflection and dishonesty” when he tried to cover up a “profound error of judgement”.

And on the SNP’s amendment, she said: “This is an attack on the committee and by extension this very parliament itself.

“This is about John Swinney protecting his friend. This is John Swinney undermining the integrity of the parliament, something he already has form for doing. And this is about John Swinney putting party before country.

“Ultimately it should be for the people of Falkirk West to decide whether they want Michael Matheson to continue to represent them, but their voice is denied because this parliament has no provision for a recall petition.”

The Scottish Greens backed both Forbes’s amendment and the committee’s sanction, with Gillian Mackay saying Matheson “should be held accountable for his actions” but expressing concerns about the process.

She called for an overhaul of how the complaints and sanction process works, saying there needed to be a “serious conversation about how we fix and depoliticise this process”.

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