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‘Decent’ Matheson has no need to stand down as MSP, says Yousaf

Former Scottish health secretary Michael Matheson’s job as an MSP is not at risk, First Minister Humza Yousaf said as he described his ex-minister as a “decent person”.

Mr Matheson quit his Cabinet role in February following months of pressure over a near-£11,000 data roaming bill racked up on his parliamentary iPad during a family holiday to Morocco.

The Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body (SPCB) – the cross-party group of MSPs tasked with the running of Parliament – last week concluded Mr Matheson had broken the code of conduct for members over his handling of the bill, and referred his case to Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee to consider sanctions.

Mr Yousaf defended Mr Matheson, deciding not to sack him from the health brief, despite pressure after it emerged last year that he initially used parliamentary expenses to pay the bill. He later agreed to cover it himself.

Michael Matheson's office
Michael Matheson has been urged to quit as an MSP (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Appearing on the BBC’s Sunday Show, Mr Yousaf said: “Michael made a mistake, there’s no ifs, buts or maybes about that – and decent people can make mistakes.

“He’s paid a price for that, literally, he’s paid back all of the money and he’ll obviously now be referred to the Parliament Standards Committee to make a judgment, and I won’t interfere in that process.”

Opposition politicians have called for Mr Matheson to stand down as an MSP as a result of the SPCB report. But asked if the former minister should quit, the First Minister said: “No, I don’t think that’s the case.

“He’s a decent person that made a mistake.

“There are MSPs that have made mistakes and they’ve had to face the consequences of those mistakes.

“I’ve not heard Michael say anything other than he’ll accept what those consequences are, and I’m sure he’ll accept whatever the parliamentary committee decides and deliberates on.”

Mr Yousaf added that he did not sack Mr Matheson from his cabinet because he “genuinely believes in due process”.

Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said the Matheson saga reinforces the argument for a process to remove MSPs as proposed by fellow Tory member Graham Simpson.

“The Michael Matheson scandal has reinforced the need for a recall bill,” she said.

“Even today, Matheson’s great friend Humza Yousaf could only meekly defend him staying.

“As it stands, there is no way for voters to remove a disgraced or failing MSP from office between elections.”

No MSP, she said, should be able to “down tools”.

“It’s not enough for Michael Matheson to resign as a minister, after months of cover-up and deceit,” the Tory deputy leader added.

“So I am calling on the SNP and the other Holyrood parties to back my colleague Graham Simpson’s recall proposals, which will protect our democracy from a minority of bad apples at parliament.

“This needn’t and shouldn’t be a partisan political issue. The vast majority of MSPs, of all parties, should have nothing to fear.”