Former Scottish minister breached rules over data-roaming incident

Michael Matheson contravened MSPs’ code of conduct by trying to claim £11,000 for charges incurred when his children used his parliamentary device to watch football while on holiday in Morocco

Former Scottish Government health secretary Michael Matheson breached the members’ code of conduct when he claimed £11,000 for data-roaming charges incurred while on holiday in Morocco.

The ruling follows an investigation by the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body. The report will now be referred to the parliament’s cross-party Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to consider whether any sanction should be applied. The SPCB concluded its investigation into complaints about the MSP last week. Matheson was found to have breached sections of the code relating to SPCB policies and expenses.

Three complaints were upheld in relation to Matheson’s use of the MSP expenses scheme, use of SPCB facilities and breaches of SPCB policies. He is now facing calls to quit as an MSP.

The SPCB added that while the costs to the public purse had been addressed when the Falkirk West MSP agreed to repay the money, his behaviour had fallen short of that set out by the Nolan Principles of Standards in Public Life.

The SPCB has not made any recommendation regarding the removal of Matheson’s entitlement to claim expenses nor any further punishment.

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Matheson resigned as health secretary last month, saying it was “in the best interest of myself and the government for me to now step down to ensure this does not become a distraction to taking forward the government’s agenda”.

In his response, Scottish Government first minister Humza Yousaf said he accepted the resignation “with sadness” but said “it is right that, having requested that the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body review your data roaming charges from last year, that you fully engage with that process as it comes to its conclusion”.

“I agree that it is therefore best for you to now step down to ensure you are able to give the parliamentary process the attention it deserves without it becoming a distraction to taking forward the government’s agenda,” he wrote.

Matheson, who was named health secretary when Yousaf succeeded Nicola Sturgeon as first minister last March, ran up a data-roaming bill of almost £11,000 while visiting Morocco with his family in December 2022. He later agreed to pay the money back, telling parliament the bill had been racked up after his sons used his parliamentary iPad to watch football.

A freedom of information request later revealed that the former health secretary had racked up charges of more than £7,000 in just one day after using 3.18GB of data. 

Politicians from other parties called for further action against Matheson.

Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie said: “The conclusion of this long running investigation is to be welcomed – but the findings pose serious questions for the first minister and the SNP government. The fact is that Humza Yousaf and senior ministers were complicit in Michael Matheson’s attempt to mislead the parliament. This is a serious error of judgement.”

Scottish Conservative Chairman Craig Hoy MSP said the SPCB’s report was “devastating and damning” for the former health secretary.

He added: “It is little wonder he was shamefully stalling for time on its publication given he has been found to have breached the MSPs’ code of conduct multiple times. This amounts to the most serious of charges against any elected member and Mr Matheson must do the right thing and resign as an MSP now. He must also confirm that he will not take a penny of his ministerial severance pay given what the report has found.”

A version of this story originally appeared on PublicTechnology sister publication Holyrood

Louise Wilson

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