The SNP’s Health Secretary has justified lying to the Scottish public about an £11,000 roaming charge bill he racked up on holiday by arguing he was trying to protect his children.
Michael Matheson said he publicly denied that anyone else had used his parliamentary iPad during a family holiday to Morocco - despite knowing this was not true - as he did not want his teenage sons drawn into the scandal.
The Partick Thistle fan insisted he was not aware during the holiday last Christmas that they were using the device to watch matches as he was not interested in the teams that were playing.
Mr Matheson falsely told the media on Nov 13 that he had run up the extraordinary £10,935.74 bill solely through conducting parliamentary business. Despite this, on Tuesday he denied misleading the media or the public.
But he said it later became “apparent” he would have to confess that his sons had been using the iPad as an internet hotspot so they could watch football.
In a statement to parliament, he claimed his wife had informed him of his sons’ use of the device on Nov 9 - four days before he issued his public denial.
Mr Matheson admitted that he could have dealt with the furore “better” but insisted he could not have protected his children by resigning.
The Falkirk West MSP said questions about how he had racked up the huge bill would have continued even if he had quit and noted he had referred himself for investigation to the Scottish Parliament’s ruling corporate body (SPCB).
But his interview with BBC Scotland came as he refused to answer questions from the press at Holyrood, telling journalists “don’t follow me around”.
The parliament then released a statement saying there was “no mechanism” by which Mr Matheson could refer himself for investigation.
It said the SPCB would take “ time to carefully consider these and agree to the scope of any investigation it may decide to undertake.”
The Tories continued to press for a parliamentary debate on the scandal so Mr Matheson could respond to the “many unanswered questions.” They are expected to lodge a vote of no confidence at Holyrood as early as Wednesday.
After Mr Matheson told the parliament he had used the iPad solely for constituency matters, it allowed him to use his taxpayer-funded expenses to fund £3,000 of the bill. Holyrood funded the £7,935.74 balance from its own budget.
He only agreed to pay back the money from his own pocket after The Telegraph disclosed the bill a fortnight ago. His annual salary is £118,511.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, said: “The health secretary has attempted to cover up his actions at every stage of this scandal – the fibs are just becoming more absurd and obvious.
“Michael Matheson is utterly discredited and must be sacked now by Humza Yousaf, who is being made to look a fool for standing by his friend.”
‘I was on holiday, it wasn’t of interest’
In a statement to parliament last Thursday, the Health Secretary insisted he had no inkling about the reason for the high charges before his Nov 9 conversation with his wife.
However, Holyrood’s authorities handed him a breakdown of his bill on Feb 7 showing the bill surged on the days of Scottish football matches. Opposition MSPs immediately made the link when it was made public last week.
Asked why he had falsely told the public that only he had used the device, Mr Matheson said: “What I was trying to avoid was getting my children drawn into what has been an issue that has attracted significant media interest from the BBC and others, significant political interest as well.
“And I wanted to try and protect them from getting involved into that issue. When it became apparent to me that I could no longer do so, I asked to make a personal statement to parliament last week.”
On Jan 2 - the day of the Old Firm match between Rangers and Celtic - the bill showed 3.18GB of usage - more than half the holiday’s total - at a cost of £7,345.69.
A further 1.26GB of data was used on Dec 28 costing £2.249.17. This was the same day as Hibs played Celtic.
But he insisted he did not discuss the results of the matches with his sons and had not watched the games with them, telling STV: “The teams that were playing aren’t even the teams I have any interest in the first place. From my perspective, I was on holiday, it wasn’t of interest to me.”
An SNP spokesman said: “It is for the corporate body to decide how any investigation will be taken forward, and Mr Matheson has been clear that he will cooperate in full.”