Michael Matheson (Sanction)

First Minister’s Question Time – in the Scottish Parliament at on 30 May 2024.

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Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

This week, John Swinney spoke about the process of sanctioning Michael Matheson and said:

“In no other walk of life would this be judged to be acceptable.”

In what other walk of life would Michael Matheson still be in a job?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The issues relating to the case of Michael Matheson have been well exercised within Parliament, and Parliament came to its conclusions yesterday. I accept the conclusions that Parliament arrived at last night.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I am not surprised that John Swinney wants to move on as quickly as possible. He accepts the judgments that Parliament came to last night, but what the people of Scotland want to know is John Swinney’s judgment, because we have not heard that yet. He refused to support any sanction at all for his friend Michael Matheson. That MSP has now been banned from Parliament for 27 days, but he has not been suspended from the Scottish National Party by John Swinney.

People across Scotland think that Michael Matheson should have been sacked, because they would have been sacked in the same circumstances. It is one rule for the SNP and another for everyone else in Scotland. Not only has the SNP refused to support any sanction for Michael Matheson; incredibly, one SNP member of this Parliament said yesterday:

“we need more MSPs like Michael Matheson”—[Official Report, 29 May 2024; c 61.]

That is incredible, just as it is incredible that the First Minister is still defending his disgraced colleague.

Given that the First Minister refused to support the 27-day ban for Michael Matheson, what does John Swinney personally think would have been a suitable punishment for the disgraced former health secretary?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I fear that Douglas Ross was not listening to my earlier answer, because I said that I accepted the decision that Parliament arrived at last night.

The reason why I did not vote for that last night is that I felt that the process was tainted, for the reasons that I rehearsed at First Minister’s question time last week.

Yesterday, Parliament said, in relation to the points that I have raised—and Mr Ross voted for this—that the actions that led to the issues that caused me concern ran the risk of the committee report

“being open to bias and prejudice and the complaint being prejudged, thereby bringing the Parliament into disrepute.”

That is what I put to Parliament last week, and that is why I took the view that I could not support the sanction—[ Interruption .]

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

—because the process was tainted.

I make it clear now, for a third time, that I accept the decision that was made by Parliament yesterday.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

That is not clear, because the First Minister has just said that he does not support the sanction. Those were his words: “I don’t support the sanction.” Will he tell us what he would support? What sanction against Michael Matheson would John Swinney accept as being reasonable?

He has spoken about the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee and has spoken previously about his own correspondence to the convener of that committee. What John Swinney has not mentioned in all these deliberations is the correspondence that he himself received from one of his Perthshire constituents, which is included in the Parliament report that we discussed yesterday and that I have here today.

John Swinney’s constituent said that Michael Matheson’s £11,000 expenses claim was the equivalent of five years’ tax on their retirement income, four years of council tax payments or three years of energy bills. In the words of John Swinney’s Perthshire constituent, Michael Matheson

“removed that money from the public purse, for his own personal gain, in a false claim.”

That letter was sent to John Swinney in November. His constituent was calling for Michael Matheson to resign then, but John Swinney ignored his constituent so that he could protect his friend.

How can John Swinney keep his own integrity if he backs a man who has none?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

For the fourth time, I accept the decision that Parliament arrived at yesterday. That includes an acknowledgement by Parliament that the process that was undertaken by the committee risks bringing the Parliament into disrepute, and Mr Ross cannot escape what he voted for last night.

That means that Parliament has to consider how it exercises its responsibilities in accordance with the principles of natural justice. That is why I am glad that Parliament agreed last night that the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body should

“initiate an independent review of the Parliament’s complaints process to restore integrity and confidence in the Parliament and its procedures.”

That is what Parliament has decided to do.

I will continue to engage directly with my constituents, who have returned me to this Parliament on six occasions, on a regular basis and to serve them as faithfully as I have always done, and I will extend that to faithfully serving the country of which I have the privilege of being First Minister.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

John Swinney claimed that he is a safe pair of hands, but even he must accept the shambles that he has made of this scandal. Let us listen to what John Swinney previously said when Henry McLeish claimed expenses and then paid them back. John Swinney’s words—if the SNP members would like to listen—were:

“People around Scotland will be staggered by the amount of money that is involved. Crucially, the bond of trust that must exist between Scotland’s First Minister and the people has been broken.”

John Swinney finished by saying:

“For the good of the Scottish Parliament ... Mr McLeish should now resign.”

What happened to that John Swinney? Where has he gone? When it does not involve someone in the SNP, John Swinney tries to talk like a man of integrity. He demands resignations. He speaks of trust. He preaches about honesty. However, now that it is his SNP friend, he has abandoned the principles that he once had. What does John Swinney’s personal handling of the scandal say about his own character?

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

I remind Douglas Ross that, in 2018, the Conservative group in this Parliament—I appreciate that Mr Ross was not a member of the group at that time, as he had left the Scottish Parliament—voted against sanctions that were applied by the standards committee to one of Mr Ross’s members. So, Mr Ross has absolutely no credibility whatsoever in coming here and suggesting that my conduct or my actions have been in any way inappropriate. [ Interruption .]

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

In addition to that, the issues that I raised and went through at length last week in answering Mr Ross have now been endorsed by Parliament.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Mr Ross, you are aware that we should not be hearing any member other than the member who has been called to speak.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The issues that I raised have now been endorsed by Parliament.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Mr Ross, I am going to ask you to apologise.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I apologise. I was simply saying that they have not been endorsed by John Swinney.

Photo of Alison Johnstone Alison Johnstone Green

Mr Ross, if this occurs again, I will be extremely frustrated and disappointed.

Photo of John Swinney John Swinney Scottish National Party

The issues that I raised last week have now been endorsed by the democratic national Parliament of Scotland, and a process that the corporate body will lead is now under way to address the issues and restore, in the words of the parliamentary motion,

“integrity and confidence in the Parliament and its procedures”,

which matter deeply to me as a member of this Parliament. For the fifth time, I indicate that I accept the conclusions that the Parliament came to yesterday.

The last thing that I am going to say to Mr Ross is this. I think that—this is pretty instructive—when Mr Ross goes through his sequence of questions and then eventually gets to the pouring out of the volume of personal abuse that he pours out, it tells us that Mr Ross has lost the argument, just as he has lost the argument throughout all of this, because he cannot do anything other than resort to nasty personal abuse. That is what Mr Ross contributes to this Parliament.