Humza Yousaf has been accused of “misleading the public” after defending his under-fire Health Secretary’s near £11,000 roaming bill despite learning the truth days before.
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has said the First Minister must answer “serious questions” amid accusations of “secrecy and cover up”.
Health Secretary Michael Matheson admitted on Thursday that his teenage sons used his Holyrood-issued iPad to watch football matches while on holiday in Morocco.
Despite initially insisting the device was used for parliamentary work during the family trip in December and early January, he revealed he had recently discovered his family’s involvement but did not initially disclose the information to “protect” his children.
In his personal statement to the Scottish Parliament, he said he informed the First Minister of the truth on Tuesday.
But the following day, Mr Yousaf told the PA news agency that the matter was “now closed” despite the new information.
Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to St Fergus gas terminal, near Peterhead, alongside Sir Keir Starmer and Ed Miliband, Mr Sarwar said he had “every sympathy” for Mr Matheson’s struggle with teenage boys, but said the Health Secretary must now consider his position.
He said: “I’ve got every sympathy for a dad that struggles with teenage boys – I’ve got two teenage boys myself.
“But the issue here is the cover up. Michael Matheson has changed his story.
“He has now admitted that he became aware on Thursday what the true situation was but continued for three or four days afterwards to tell mistruths about what actually happened and mislead both Parliament and the public.
“That’s not right and it’s not appropriate. He also says he told the First Minister on Tuesday – why did the First Minister then mislead the public on Wednesday?
“I think there are serious questions need answering and I absolutely think Michael Matheson should be considering his position.”
He added: “I think the First Minister has handled this atrociously. He is carrying on this wider culture of secrecy and cover up, thinking they can blag their way through day by day, hoping problems go away.
“That’s not the way to run a government and its not the way to run a country. They should come clean, tell the truth and, for once, be held accountable and held responsible for their actions.
“Lying to the public is not right for anyone to do, particularly not for the Health Secretary, nor the First Minister.”
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has written to the First Minister to demand an apology and explanation to the public after he said he had “full confidence” in Mr Matheson.
He said Mr Yousaf’s “integrity is on the line every bit as much as that of his friend”.
He added: “He owes the public an explanation and apology for giving his unequivocal backing to a minister he knew had knowingly lied to the country when he claimed that the iPad had only been used for work purposes.
“On Wednesday, the First Minister was still parroting the line that this was an honest mistake related to an old SIM card, when he knew the truth.”
Mr Ross added: “The fact is the Health Secretary has lied and covered up throughout this scandal and the First Minister appears to have aided and abetted him.
“The country can see Michael Matheson’s position is untenable. If Humza Yousaf refuses to sack him, he is condoning ministers lying to the public and misleading parliament.”
Scotland’s Culture Secretary, Angus Robertson, said Mr Matheson is a “very capable” person and that he looks forward to him continuing as Health Secretary.
Asked whether Mr Matheson’s position is tenable, he told the PA news agency: “The opposition is going to say what the opposition is going to say, there’s no surprise there.
“I listened very closely to Michael Matheson’s statement. And I think any fair-minded person will appreciate the circumstances which he outlined for the Parliament. And he’s referred himself to the corporate body which will investigate the matter.
“That’s quite right and proper. I’ve known Michael now for decades and I sit around the Cabinet table from him where he is working very diligently in the health portfolio area, and I look forward to him continuing to do that.”
An SNP spokesperson said: “Mr Matheson has reimbursed the parliament in full for the costs incurred, and set out his position in detail on Thursday, including referring himself to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body.
“Opposition parties and MSPs are free to raise all such questions in parliament, and scrutinise ministers according to Holyrood’s processes of accountability.”