Swinney’s backing of Michael Matheson will lead to election ‘slump’ for SNP, says Labour

Mr Swinney says he will not support a recommendation that Mr Matheson be suspended from the Scottish Parliament for 27 sitting days
John Swinney is not supporting a recommendation that Mr Matheson be suspended from the Scottish Parliament for 27 sitting days - Michael Boyd/PA

The Scottish First Minister’s support for a friend who charged the taxpayer £11,000 in iPad roaming charges will lead to a “Swinney slump” for the SNP in the general election, he has been warned.

Ian Murray, Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary, predicted John Swinney would face a backlash at the ballot box on July 4 over his backing for Michael Matheson, disgraced former health secretary.

He said Mr Matheson had been “caught bang to rights” and SNP MPs trying to hold their seats would be in “absolute despair” at the First Minister “defending this sleaze”.

Mr Swinney said last week he would not support a recommendation by Holyrood’s standards committee that Mr Matheson be suspended from the Scottish Parliament for 27 sitting days.

He admitted that Mr Matheson was a friend but insisted the process for investigating him was “prejudiced”.

He cited a comment made in November 2023 by Annie Wells, a Tory member of the committee, stating that Mr Matheson’s “desperate efforts to justify his outrageous expenses claim have been riddled with lies, cover-ups and the need for us all to suspend our disbelief”.

But Mr Swinney’s decision has dominated the opening days of the general election campaign in Scotland, with SNP candidates reportedly expressing fury and exasperation at his defence of Mr Matheson.

Row set to intensify

The row will intensify this week, with MSPs expected to vote on Thursday on whether to endorse the standards committee’s recommendation. It is understood the SNP is considering tabling an amendment with a lesser sanction.

However, the committee’s recommendation of a 27-day suspension appeared likely to be endorsed by Parliament after the Scottish Greens said they would support it.

Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Alba Party MSPs are also expected to back it, meaning it would be expected to pass despite Mr Swinney’s opposition.

Mr Murray said: “SNP MPs must be looking at John Swinney’s decision to defend Michael Matheson in absolute despair.

“This a man who attempted to defraud the taxpayer of £11,000 and then lied about it. He’s been caught bang to rights and defending this sleaze will lead to a Swinney slump on July 4.”

Craig Hoy, the Scottish Tory chairman, said: “It simply beggars belief that those in charge of the SNP are so out of touch with public opinion that they are siding with a man who got taxpayers to pay his £11,000 iPad bill and then repeatedly lied about it when he was caught out.”

Mr Matheson racked up the £10,941.74 bill for his parliamentary iPad over Christmas 2022 during a family holiday in Morocco. The device had an outdated EE sim card.

Watching football matches

He then told Holyrood’s authorities the charges were all in respect of constituency work. The Parliament allowed him to use his taxpayer-funded expenses to fund £3,000 of the bill and provided the £7,935.74 balance from its own budget.

Mr Matheson paid back the money from his own pocket on Nov 10 2023, two days after The Telegraph disclosed the bill. He told the media there had been no personal use of the device.

However, in a statement to MSPs, he admitted he had found out on Nov 9 that his sons had used the iPad at an internet hotspot to watch football matches.

Mr Matheson finally resigned in February 2024 after the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party corporate body completed its investigation, which concluded he had breached two sections of the MSP code of conduct.

The case was then referred to the standards committee, with Ms Wells proposing the 27-day punishment. This was the final recommendation despite the opposition of the two SNP members, who thought it excessive.

The committee, including its SNP members, also agreed unanimously that Mr Matheson should not receive his salary for 54 days.

Ross Greer, a Green MSP, tweeted: “Green MSPs will support the standards committee’s recommended sanction, though the committee must address concerns about leaks etc.”

But Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader, told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show that the committee had not conducted the process for deciding the punishment properly, as Ms Wells had made public her views “before she even considered the evidence”.