Michael Matheson, the embattled Scottish Health Secretary, is facing a no confidence vote and a Holyrood debate amid fresh calls for him to resign over his iPad bill “cover-up”.
The Scottish Conservatives said too many questions remain unanswered almost a fortnight since the scandal erupted, and urged the SNP to agree to demands for a debate in the Scottish Parliament.
Mr Matheson claimed on Thursday that a data roaming charge of almost £11,000 was caused by his teenage sons watching football while on a family holiday in Morocco.
Despite learning this a week earlier, he continued to insist the device had only been used for parliamentary work and did not inform Humza Yousaf, the First Minister, of the truth until five days later, on Tuesday Nov 14.
Mr Yousaf appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme on Sunday and was asked if Mr Matheson misled him.
“No, I don’t believe Michael did,” he said.
The First Minister admitted his Health Secretary could have handled the situation better, but said he had apologised for that.
He added that Mr Matheson had only used the iPad for parliamentary purposes and did not discover his sons’ use of the device until Thursday Nov 9.
“There’s a legitimate question that people have asked, and Michael addressed last week, around whether he at that point should have been upfront publicly around the fact that was the reason that he was choosing to repay the entire bill,” said Mr Yousaf.
“He was trying to protect his children. For me, Michael - who I have known for well over 15 years - is a man of integrity, honesty.”
Mr Ross said the scandal was impacting the entire SNP government amid newspaper reports that some members of Mr Matheson’s own party believe he should fall on his sword.
Speaking on BBC One’s The Sunday Show, the Tory leader indicated his intention to seek a motion of no confidence in Mr Matheson at Holyrood, and added that only his party had the numbers to bring forward a vote.
Mr Ross said: “This scandal is now impacting on the whole SNP government – not just a Health Secretary who is ditching ministerial engagements to lie low.
“[Mr Matheson] simply cannot continue as Health Secretary and the longer he does, the more his position in government becomes a distraction for Humza Yousaf and the SNP.”
Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, also appeared on The Sunday Show and repeated his call for the Health Secretary to resign.
“This is not about the data, it’s not about his family - this is about him misleading the public. That is why I think he should resign.”
It emerged earlier this month that Mr Matheson racked up a total bill of £10,935.74 after taking his parliamentary iPad on the family holiday over the New Year.
The cost was initially set to be picked up by the Scottish Parliament, but the Health Secretary has since paid the money back and referred himself for further investigation.
The calls for him to resign centre on Mr Matheson’s public claims that none of the bill was down to personal use, despite knowing otherwise. He claimed on Thursday that he withheld the truth from journalists to protect his family.
Dame Jackie Baillie, deputy leader of Scottish Labour, told The Mail on Sunday it was “a deliberate and barefaced lie” by one of the most senior members of the SNP government.
The controversy has also prompted calls for an independent adviser on ministers’ interests, with responsibility for ethics in government, to be established north of the border.
“The dishonesty is a major issue. We need an office similar to that in London but with teeth,” James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, told The Sunday Times.