Stephen Daisley Stephen Daisley

Matheson’s suspension has come at a terrible time for the SNP

Michael Matheson (Credit: Getty images)

The Scottish parliament has voted to suspend former SNP cabinet minister Michael Matheson for 27 sitting days and dock his salary for 54 calendar days. It comes after Matheson was found to have broken the MSP code of conduct on expenses and use of parliamentary resources. Matheson ran up an £11,000 mobile data bill during a family holiday in Morocco and tried to have the taxpayer pick up the tab. Despite initially claiming no knowledge of how such a large bill was incurred, he later said that his sons had run up the charges while using the device’s hotspotting function to stream Celtic football matches. 

The vote broke down 64 in favour of sanctioning Matheson, with 63 abstaining. This reflects the decision by SNP leader John Swinney to oppose the recommended penalty and attack the standards committee process as tainted by a Tory member who had previously condemned Matheson. Matheson is, as Swinney freely admits, a personal friend and the First Minister has come in for criticism for appearing to put standing by his mate ahead of parliamentary standards. A no less pressing consideration is that, following the break up of the SNP-Green coalition, his government is a minority administration and losing even one MSP for 27 days will make life difficult for the First Minister and the party whip. 

A bigger concern for SNP candidates, currently knocking on doors asking for votes, is whether the Matheson row and Swinney’s decision to back his pal will hurt their chances on polling day. The SNP is trailing Labour in Scotland by ten points in the most recent YouGov poll and voters express dissatisfaction with the nationalists’ handling of devolved matters like health and education north of the border. I wrote about some of these difficulties on Coffee House last week. There couldn’t be a worse time for the SNP to be seen as out of touch on MSP expenses on top of it all.