One way or the other, there will soon be a vote of no confidence in SNP Health Secretary Michael Matheson. The Scottish Conservatives, the only party with the numbers to call such a vote, has already committed to it.
His position is untenable after having knowingly lied to the country and misled parliament.
Myself and my party have further questions we expect the First Minister and his beleaguered minister to answer before we table the confidence motion. But it’s coming.
When it does, I would urge SNP and Green MSPs to cast aside tribal allegiance and do the right thing.
Because if they were to back Mr Matheson, they would be giving the green light to wilful deception and cover-up by ministers.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross believes Michael Matheson’s position is untenable
Even if you’ve followed every twist and turn in this frankly depressing story, it bears repeating.
Michael Matheson went on a family holiday to Morocco shortly after Christmas last year. While he was away, he racked up data charges on a parliamentary iPad that totalled almost £11,000.
He’s always claimed this was because he failed to heed parliament’s rules, and repeated advice, about changing his sim card and watching out for roaming charges. Under 2018 guidelines, the cap on claiming for roaming charge fees accrued was £200.
Despite this, Mr Matheson got parliament – ie, the Scottish taxpayer – to cover the enormous bill when it was submitted as an expenses claim at the start of the year.
Mr Matheson admitted he was a bit surprised by how much money was involved, looked into it, but managed to sort it out with the parliament. The ‘sorting out’ involved the taxpayer picking up every penny of the bill, and him not delving too deeply into why the costs were so enormous.
He simply assured the authorities that he’d been working on constituency business and went back to the day job of being a minister in the SNP government.
Unfortunately for Mr Matheson, somebody noticed the eye-catching expense claim ten days ago.
The best part of a year after all these costs had been quietly borne by the Scottish taxpayer, he suddenly had to explain himself.
Over the past week, the Health Minister’s explanation has unravelled spectacularly. And the story kept changing.
Yet at every step of the way, the response of Michael Matheson, of Humza Yousaf and of SNP ministers was one of deflection, distraction and denial.
On Wednesday, November 8, we got the first iteration of Mr Matheson’s story, which, the next day, Humza Yousaf backed to the hilt.
By Friday, the Health Secretary’s new version was that, having thought it was right for the public to pay the £11,000 bill, he’d decided, out of the goodness of his heart, that he would stump up after all. Even though he had only been conducting constituency business while on holiday.
Humza Yousaf again thought that drew a line under the issue and, while Mr Matheson didn’t need to pay anything because he hadn’t broken any rules, it was jolly good of him to do so.
On Monday, Mr Matheson told reporters there had been no personal use of the iPad. A flat lie.
By the account he gave in his personal statement in parliament on Thursday – that, in fact, the device had been used by his sons to stream football matches – he already knew that it wasn’t true.
Many people will find it difficult to believe that he did not have the slightest inkling of any of this before. And that, if he genuinely didn’t, it suggests he was astonishingly indifferent to an enormous bill – because, after all, he wasn’t going to have to pay it.
Lots of us, especially those with an interest in football, as I have, will sympathise with the desire to watch football over the festive break. So, I feel for Mr Matheson’s children, even if, according to him, they never made any mention of the match at the time, and he never thought of it at all, being too busy with his constituency work during his holiday.
Any parent will also sympathise with his urge to keep them out of the story and make sure they didn’t get the blame.
Though Mr Matheson rather undermined that argument when he did give them all the blame in his statement on Thursday, explaining that it was a good reason for him not to resign. (If he had resigned, of course, he could have kept them out of it.)
So we now have a distracted Health Secretary focused on saving himself, rather than rescuing Scotland’s NHS as we approach what looks likely to be a catastrophic winter crisis.
Mr Matheson with Humza Yousaf at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday
But if anyone comes out of this looking even worse than Michael Matheson, it’s Humza Yousaf who can only be seen as either credulous, weak or deceitful – or all three. He has serious questions to answer on this scandal.
According to Mr Matheson, he informed the First Minister of the real reason for the enormous data bill on Tuesday.
Why the Health Secretary waited five days after his sons confessed before telling his boss the full story is a pertinent question too, but let’s lay it aside for now.
What on earth was Humza Yousaf doing on Wednesday giving his unequivocal backing – and still parroting the red herring, ‘outdated sim card’ defence himself – to a minister he knew had knowingly tried to deceive the country two days earlier?
His judgment was abysmal and, worse still, he was complicit in a cover-up.
When Lorna Slater, the Greens’ co-leader, faced a richly deserved vote of no confidence after the botched Deposit Return Scheme, only one Nationalist MSP had the courage and integrity to vote for her removal. But the issue at stake then was her incompetence.
This is even more serious. It is about a minister who wrongly claimed public funds then, by his own admission, misled parliament and the public. Those points are not in dispute.
No government can have credibility or confidence in the face of such a scandal. And no member of the parliament – even those within the SNP – could, with any honesty or integrity, vote to retain someone in post in these circumstances. It’s time for them to stand up and be counted.
Source: | This article originally belongs to Daily Mail