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by Louise Wilson
29 May 2024
SNP U-turns on Michael Matheson suspension opposition


SNP U-turns on Michael Matheson suspension opposition

The parliament will vote to suspend Michael Matheson after the SNP confirmed it would not oppose the sanction.

The former health secretary faces a 27-day exclusion from parliament and having his salary withdrawn for 54 days for breaching the MSP code of conduct and expenses scheme rules when he falsely claimed £11,000 for data roaming charges.

The parliament's standards committee last week recommended the sanction after considering a report from the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) concluding Matheson had not upheld the standards of office.

But at FMQs last week, First Minister John Swinney argued against those sanctions, insisting "prejudice" had impacted the outcomes of the committee's deliberations.

Now in a major U-turn, his party is set to accept the recommendations - but they will attempt to instead amend the standard committee's motion to highlight its issues with the process.

The amendment submitted by deputy first minister Kate Forbes says the report risked being "open to bias and prejudice and the complaint being prejudged, thereby bringing the parliament into disrepute".

The debate and vote on the motion will take place on Wednesday afternoon.

Matheson will be unable to return to parliament well after summer recess.

The SNP's decision followed an announcement by the Scottish Greens on Tuesday evening confirming its MSPs would back the sanctions. A spokersperson said: "It remains correct that Mr Matheson is held accountable for his actions, and our MSP group will vote for the sanctions excluding him from parliament and sacrificing his salary."

The debate will be followed by a separate debate led by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, calling on Matheson to resign as an MSP.

Ross's motion states: "That the Parliament believes that Michael Matheson should resign as an MSP for misusing taxpayers’ money and making misleading statements."

Matheson had repeatedly said he will not resign as the Falkirk West MSP and he continues to sit as an SNP backbencher since his resignation from government in February.

Ross said: "Michael Matheson would have been sacked in any other walk of life for what he did. That is why opinion polls show the vast majority believe he has to go."

However with SNP and Green opposition, this motion is unlikely to pass.

Responding to the report last week, Matheson told reporters the process had been "highly politicised". He also said he felt the proposed sanction was "excessive" and "unfair".

The SNP MSPs who sit on the standards committee - Alasdair Allan and Jackie Dunbar - had voted against the 27-day suspension, saying it was unusually high. The pair were defeated in a vote, with the remaining three members of the committee (convener Martin Whitfield and Tory MSPs Annie Wells and Oliver Mundell) backing it.

The committee had, however, unanimously agreed a suspension and withdrawal of salary was appropriate.

Swinney's claim of prejudice was based on the fact Wells had not recused herself from considering the complaints despite making public comments on the matter, unlike Tory colleague Stephen Kerr who had said he felt he could not be impartial.

Matheson ran up the data roaming bill while on a family holiday in Morocco. He has said he initially believed the parliamentary iPad had been used solely for parliamentary purposes, and he only later discovered his sons had used the device as a hotspot to watch football.

He later paid back the sum.

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