A Scottish minister became the subject of scrutiny after he racked up £11,000 (or about $13,672) in roaming charges while on vacation.
The Scottish National Party’s Michael Matheson admitted on Thursday that the eye-popping bill was due to his kids using data to watch football on a family trip in Morocco late last year. And now, pressure is mounting on the health secretary to step down from his role.
Matheson, who had previously denied using his parliamentary iPad for personal purposes, told the members of the Scottish Parliament that he wasn’t aware that his family had been using the device until a week earlier.
“I can see now that it just isn’t possible to explain the data usage without explaining their role. The simple truth is they [his sons] watched football matches,” Matheson told MSPs on Thursday.
The health secretary initially agreed to pay £3,000 of the entire bill out of his expenses budget, while the Scottish Parliament (and therefore, tax-payers) would cover the rest. When the initial cause of the exorbitant bill was believed to be an outdated sim card, Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said the charges were a “legitimate parliamentary expense” and a part of his work.
However, after Matheson admitted to the real reason for the charges, he told the parliament on Thursday that he would pay the amount in full out of his pocket.
“In my statement issued last Friday, I made no reference to the use of data by my family,” Matheson said. “As a parent, I wanted to protect them from being part of the political and media scrutiny associated with this, something I believe any parent would want to do … That was a mistake and I am sorry.”
Matheson told MSPs that he reached out to get support on Dec. 28 as his phone wasn’t working in Morocco. He also said he was told the iPad could be used as a hotspot, however the Scottish Parliament didn’t have records that confirm that.
“Our IT help desk records don’t show if this was discussed on 28 Dec. The focus of the call was trying to get his mobile phone working,” a Scottish Parliament spokesperson told Fortune.
SNP representatives didn’t immediately return Fortune’s request for comment.
NEW: The Scottish Parliament has released details of Michael Matheson’s data usage while on holiday in Morocco. pic.twitter.com/ptktN2bQY9
— Holyrood magazine (@HolyroodDaily) November 15, 2023
Implications of the Parliamentary iPad Use
Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Jackie Baillie said it was “unfathomable” for Matheson to hold on to his role “after deceiving the public and parliament over his actions,” according to the BBC. The Scottish Conservatives leader Douglass Ross also emphasized that there were still questions to be resolved regarding the crisis.
“The health secretary has belatedly been forced to be honest about the circumstances, but we cannot ignore or forget the fact that, months ago, he wanted the Scottish taxpayer to pay £11,000 for his roaming bill,” Ross told MSPs on Thursday.
Experts think that if Matheson came clean from the beginning, the issue may not have snowballed to the level that it has.
“An open and honest admission of what had happened, accompanied by Michael Matheson accepting he should pay for the data roaming charges at the outset… would have settled matters,” James Mitchell, professor of public policy at the University of Edinburgh, told the Financial Times.
Matheson’s ordeal over the use of his parliamentary iPad could have implications for the SNP and its leader Yousaf, who said he had full confidence in Matheson earlier. The First Minister has been trying to stabilize his party amid an ongoing police investigation into the party’s finances. SNP’s previous first minister Nicola Sturgeon was arrested and later released in June over as part of the same financial probe.
As for the health secretary, he continues to hold his position as an MSP although he could face a no-confidence vote. The parliament is revisiting its data roaming and mobile devices rules to “ensure the present situation cannot happen again,” Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone said in a statement Wednesday.