Tory cleared of conduct breach after calling John Swinney 'devious' and 'manipulative'
Former Tory MSP Adam Tomkins breached Holyrood’s code of conduct by describing John Swinney as “devious, unscrupulous” and “manipulative”, according to an investigation by Scotland’s Ethical Standards Commissioner.
However, MSPs on the parliament’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee have overruled the watchdog, saying he was wrong to find the way he did.
On March 1, Tomkins, who stood down at the last election, criticised Swinney over the publication of the legal advice given to ministers on the Alex Salmond judicial review.
The former first minister had taken the government to court over its handling of harassment complaints made against him. He ultimately won, with the government criticised for pushing ahead with their defence, despite warnings from their QC that they would lose.
At the time, the opposition parties said they would support a Tory motion of no confidence in Swinney in an effort to force the publication of the full legal advice given to the government by their lawyers.
The deputy first minister relented and agreed to publish the advice.
Tomkins then took to Twitter, writing: “Swinney does the right thing not because it’s the right thing to do but only because it’ll save his neck. Devious unscrupulous manipulative little man.”
That prompted a complaint to the commissioner, who found Tomkins had breached the code of conduct’s provisions in relation to courtesy and respect.
The Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee disagreed.
In a statement, the committee chair Martin Whitfield said MSPs were “unanimous in the decisions reached on the complaint.”
He added: “It agrees with the Acting Commissioner’s findings in fact. The committee does not agree with the Acting Commissioner’s conclusion that a breach of the code of conduct has occurred.
“The code of conduct for Members of the Scottish Parliament sets out the standards of conduct for members in relation to their Parliamentary duties as an MSP. It specifically excludes members’ private and family life and members expressing their political views (in their capacity as a member of a political party or organisation).
“In considering this complaint, the committee were mindful of the scope of the code of conduct. On balance, the committee concluded that a link between the tweet in question and the member’s parliamentary duties was not sufficiently established.
“The guidance on the code of conduct makes it clear that its provisions in relation to how members conduct themselves apply in relation to activity on social media, subject to the overall scope of the code.
"The committee recognises, however, that there may be value in reviewing the guidance so that MSPs, as well as the public, have a clearer understanding of the interaction between social media postings and parliamentary duties and what falls within the scope of the code. For this reason, the committee intends to look at whether any clarifications to the code or its guidance might be helpful.”
Taking to Twitter, Tomkins said he was “delighted” that “after months of ludicrous and taxpayer-funded expensive investigation” the committee had cleared him of breaching the MSP code of conduct.
He added: “Now this complaint has been dismissed I can finally talk about it. It is LUDICROUS that in Scotland, opposition politicians can be investigated for months for doing the job of criticising government politicians.
“The very idea that politicians may not say on Twitter what the Presiding Officer would permit to be said in the chamber without facing months of investigation shows how fragile not only our free speech but our sanity is in Scotland.”