23 May 2024

Holyrood committee backs 27-day ban for Michael Matheson over roaming charges

23 May 2024

The convener of the Scottish Parliament’s standards committee used his casting vote to recommend ex-minister Michael Matheson is banned from Holyrood for 27 days.

Martin Whitfield, the head of the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, backed a proposal from Conservative MSP Annie Wells to suspend Mr Matheson for almost one month after he racked up a near-£11,000 data roaming bill on his parliamentary iPad during a family holiday in Morocco.

He later revealed the costs had been incurred because his teenage sons were using the device as a wifi hotspot to watch football.

Initially, Mr Matheson had attempted to use a combination of his office costs and expenses to cover the bill, but he later said he would pay it himself after the issue was made public.

SNP committee members Jackie Dunbar and Alasdair Allan voted against the sanction.

Mr Matheson will also lose his salary for 54 days if the recommendations are approved by MSPs in a vote.

Mr Whitfield said: “A proposal for a period of exclusion of 27 sitting days was made by Annie Wells. (Tory MSP) Oliver Mundell indicated his support for this proposal.

“Jackie Dunbar and Alasdair Allan did not agree with this proposal. I did not cast my personal view in favour of the option but, in my capacity as convener, recognising that the committee would otherwise not have been in a position to make a recommendation, I supported the proposal for exclusion of a period of 27 sitting days.

“A majority of the committee therefore supported a recommendation of exclusion for a period of 27 sitting days.”

Many in the real world would have faced the very real possibility of losing their job in the same circumstances

He said the sanction would have been worse but for “mitigatory factors, including the impact on the member and his family”.

Mr Allan said he thought the 27-day sanction was “extremely high” compared to previous cases, though he recognised the need for a penalty.

Ms Dunbar said she concurred with him.

Mr Mundell said there had been “significant damage” to the reputation of the Parliament and he would have backed a longer suspension – though he recognised the need for a majority view.

“Many in the real world would have faced the very real possibility of losing their job in the same circumstances”, he said.

Mr Whitfield said during the committee hearing on Thursday the entirety of the £10,941.74 bill had been paid.

“Mr Matheson has set out that since becoming aware of the circumstances in which the data usage occurred, he has been motivated by seeking to protect his family,” the convener added.

“Mr Matheson has described the significant impact that there has been on his family.

“The committee acknowledges the impact of the significant media and other intrusions which took place on Mr Matheson and his family.

“However, the obligations all members have under the code, the expenses scheme and relevant SPCB policies are of paramount importance in upholding the integrity of the scheme and the ethical standards framework, flowing from the Nolan Principles, that underpin the conduct of parliamentary duties.

“Any failure to meet those obligations has an adverse impact on the reputation of the expenses scheme, members and the Parliament as a whole.”

The best videos delivered daily

Watch the stories that matter, right from your inbox