The Scottish Parliament is facing calls for an official investigation into SNP health secretary Michael Matheson’s overseas expenses, as he reportedly accrued £11,000 in roaming charges during a holiday in Morocco.
The controversy has been labeled as damaging for the Scottish Parliament, prompting critics to demand transparency.
Last Christmas, Matheson’s week-long trip to Morocco resulted in a staggering roaming bill of £10,935.74, all attributed to his parliamentary-issued iPad.
The device, intended for official use, became the center of attention as Matheson shifted the blame to parliamentary officials for an outdated sim card.
Despite efforts by Holyrood, the Scottish parliament, to dispute the charges, the service provider refused to waive the fees, leaving taxpayers with the burden.
Matheson, in an attempt to mitigate the situation, contributed £3,000 from his office budget. However, the Scottish Tories have urged Holyrood presiding officer Alison Johnston to instigate a thorough investigation.
During a point of order at Holyrood, Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy urged Johnston to lead a comprehensive inquiry, emphasizing the need to publish the full bill incurred by Matheson.
Questions were raised about whether the Parliament violated its own rules, which impose a £200 cap on roaming charges, and whether Matheson breached parliamentary rules by claiming such a substantial sum.
Johnston confirmed her authority to conduct an investigation but requested an official request from Hoy. She asserted that she could respond once an official request was submitted.
In response to media inquiries, Matheson briefly addressed the issue, pointing to an “outdated sim card” and claiming ignorance about the need for a replacement. He argued that the parliamentary iPad served both constituency and parliamentary purposes.
Critics, including Hoy, criticized Matheson’s responses as “utterly tone-deaf,” expressing disappointment at the lack of a detailed explanation or an apology.
The health secretary was seen smirking during discussions of the issue at Holyrood.
Humza Yousaf, another SNP minister, supported Matheson, stating that parliamentary authorities had confirmed the charges as legitimate parliamentary expenses.
A Scottish Parliament spokesperson revealed that an investigation had taken place, highlighting Matheson’s failure to update the iPad’s sim card or notify the IT office before traveling.
As a response, the Parliament plans to conduct a policy review of mobile data usage, exploring potential personal liability for costs and implementing enhanced technical controls to prevent similar incidents.