MSPs vote to suspend Scotland's former health secretary Michael Matheson over £11,000 iPad bill

MSPs have voted to suspend Scotland's former health secretary from Holyrood for 27 sitting days and to strip him of his salary for 54 days over his £11,000 iPad data roaming bill.

A majority of MSPs backed the proposed sanction against Michael Matheson recommended by the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee in a vote at Holyrood on Wednesday.

It comes after the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) concluded in March that he had breached the MSP code of conduct.

The suspension will take effect from Thursday and is the harshest punishment ever handed to an MSP.

A ban of 10 days or more would be enough to trigger a recall petition in Westminster, however the Scottish parliament has no such mechanism.

The Falkirk West MSP had previously described the sanction as "excessive" and "unfair", while First Minister John Swinney claimed the process had been "prejudiced" due to critical comments made by one of the committee members.

A total of 64 MSPs voted to back the recommendations, with SNP members abstaining.

The SNP were however successful in amending the motion to include complaints about the process which thereby brought "the parliament into disrepute". It also included a call for an "independent review" of the complaints process at Holyrood.

In a statement issued afterwards, Mr Matheson said: "I apologise and regret that this situation occurred. I acknowledge and accept the decision of parliament.

"I also note that parliament has called for the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body to carry out an independent review of the parliament's complaints process to restore integrity and confidence in the parliament and its procedures, which I hope will be progressed.

"I look forward to continuing to represent the people of Falkirk West, as I have done for many years."

What did Michael Matheson do?

Mr Matheson took the parliamentary iPad with him on a week-long visit to Morocco with his family around Christmas in 2022.

Mr Matheson was the net zero, energy and transport secretary in Nicola Sturgeon's government at the time of the incident.

He was then appointed cabinet secretary for NHS recovery, health and social care when Humza Yousaf became first minister in March last year.

It was during his time as health secretary - with an annual salary of £118,511 - that the story became headline news.

His roaming charges for the iPad - not phone calls - totalled nearly £11,000 and were initially paid for by taxpayers after Mr Matheson claimed he racked up the eye-watering invoice undertaking constituency work during the trip.

It was found that Mr Matheson had failed to replace an outdated SIM card, which led to the hefty bill. Officials at Holyrood challenged the invoice over the scale of the data fees and the late warning over the rising cost, but previous provider EE declined to waive it.

Mr Matheson agreed to pay £3,000 towards the cost from his expenses budget. As the data use was reportedly for parliamentary business, the Scottish parliament agreed to pay the rest.

Following a public outcry, Mr Matheson agreed to pay the money back to the Scottish parliament. However, questions remained over the data use - with the figures appearing higher on days football games were taking place.

It then later emerged his teenage sons had used the iPad as a hotspot to watch football while on the family vacation.

Mr Matheson told Holyrood he was unaware his sons had used the iPad as a hotspot when he initially submitted the bill. He claimed he was told the truth by his wife after the story became national news.

Following his wife's admission, Mr Matheson initially failed to publicly mention his sons' involvement. Instead, he continued to insist the iPad was only used for parliamentary work and blamed an outdated SIM card for the excessive bill.

When questioned by journalists days after he knew the truth, he continued to deny the iPad was used for personal use until he made a statement to Holyrood.

The SPCB launched an investigation in November, with Mr Matheson tendering his resignation as health secretary ahead of officially receiving the findings of the review.

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'He made a mistake'

Before the proposed sanction was recommended, Scottish Tory MSP and standards committee member Annie Wells described Mr Matheson's defence as "riddled with lies, cover-ups and the need for us all to suspend our disbelief".

First minister Mr Swinney previously said he would not back the proposed ban, claiming the committee had been "prejudiced" against his "friend and colleague".

Following the vote, he once again supported Mr Matheson, saying: "He made a mistake and has been given a punishment by parliament which I accept unreservedly.

"Michael should accept that punishment and continue to serve the people that sent him here."

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said Mr Swinney had tried to "derail and undermine due process" with his criticism of Ms Wells' behaviour.

Mr Ross added: "The actions of the first minister towards my colleague Annie Wells would make Donald Trump blush.

"It is disgusting and disgraceful behaviour that demeans the office of first minister, because he has targeted members of an independent committee in this parliament and is attempting to undermine due process with his bully boy tactics."