Humza Yousaf faces questions over his political judgment in ministerial iPad affair

Scotland’s health minister Michael Matheson suddenly quit this week, three months after it emerged an £11,000 holiday roaming charge had been racked up on his taxpayer-funded iPad

The resignation on Thursday of Scotland’s health minister Michael Matheson over an £11,000 roaming charge on his parliamentary iPad represents yet another splitting headache for the embattled first minister Humza Yousaf.

If, as some in Scotland are suggesting, it has been found that Matheson misled a parliamentary investigation into the affair it will shift from headache to full blown political crisis for the first minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).

Yousaf took a clear gamble last year by following Matheson’s line that he had made an “honest mistake”, and repeatedly asserted in public that this was the case. If this turns out not to be fully true then background murmurings over Yousaf’s political judgment will rise to a loud chorus.

When it first emerged last year that Matheson had racked up the charge on his taxpayer-funded device he misled the media. He said it had arisen due to his parliamentary work. Then Scottish reporters noticed the dates on the charges coincided with Old Firm football games between Celtic and Rangers.


As political pressure grew Matheson changed his story: he said the charges were racked up by his young sons watching football matches while he was on a new year family break in Morocco. He said he had wanted to protect his sons, and that was why he told journalists the false tale.

Matheson paid back the money. The health minister then referred himself to a parliamentary standards body, and tried to brazen it out with a furious Holyrood media lobby who felt it had been lied to.

It is believed that Yousaf, who took over from Nicola Sturgeon last March, was advised by some of his advisers to sack Matheson. He chose to back him instead. Last November, as the controversy over Matheson was in the headlines, Yousaf sat down for an interview in Edinburgh with The Irish Times, during which he addressed it.

He told this newspaper that Matheson had been a friend for 15 years. He admitted his health minister “should have handled it better”. but concluded he was a “man of integrity” who just tried to protect his family. “If someone in Michael’s position deliberately goes out of their way to deceive, to connive, to deliberately and knowingly mislead, then that’s a very serious offence indeed. But Michael did not. He made an honest mistake,” said Yousaf.

Eventually the story died down, until Thursday. Matheson suddenly quit an hour before first minister’s questions. Hours later Matheson received a report from the parliamentary standards committee that investigated his case. At the time of writing it had not yet been published.

There was fevered speculation in Edinburgh heading into the weekend that the report is damning. The Scottish edition of the Times reported investigators concluded Matheson misled them. In his out-of-the-blue resignation statement Matheson insisted he had not yet received the findings. But had he, somehow, been made aware of them?

Yousaf has had a rollercoaster ride since taking over from Sturgeon, whom it later emerged was under police investigation over an alleged SNP financial scandal. The first minister cannot be held responsible for that. But if it turns out that he chose to back Matheson prematurely, allowing the damaging story to drag on for three months, then there will be nobody else to blame when the inevitable questions over his political nous come.

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