Mark McDonald’s high-flying ministerial career was left in tatters because of the events of one day in 2016, it has emerged.
The evening of September 27 of that year concluded with the Aberdeen Donside MSP sending Twitter messages which made reference to a sex act and have now been judged to have “involved sexual harassment”.
But the circumstances leading up to the “unwanted” messages were disputed during an inquiry by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards.
Contact between Mr McDonald and the woman, whose complaint about the messages led to him quitting the Scottish Government in November last year, had begun on public social media pages in the run-up to the 2016 Holyrood election campaign.
Private messages followed and, although initially they were not of “any particular concern” to the woman, who worked for Glasgow Cathcart MSP James Dornan, she soon believed they were too friendly and he was “not taking the hint”.
During the day on September 27, Mr McDonald sent an e-mail asking if the woman would like to meet for a coffee at the parliament, which she said had left her feeling “pestered”, but which Mr McDonald viewed as “nothing exceptional”.
That evening, Mr Dornan hosted a Colleges Scotland reception at Holyrood, which the witness said Mr McDonald had attended, but he insisted he had not.
At the event, the woman reported that she began to believe that Mr McDonald was waiting for her in the Garden Lobby area of the parliament, and asked Mr Dornan to escort her out of the building.
But the commissioner concluded that it was “not physically possible” to see the Garden Lobby from the event, that Mr McDonald did not wait for an extended period in the Garden Lobby, and that he had not been at the Colleges Scotland event.
The witness also said that as she left Holyrood, Mr McDonald walked alongside her and Mr Dornan to the outdoor turnstile exit and spoke to them.
However Mr Dornan said they walked past Mr McDonald inside the building, and was not certain if anything was said.
Mr McDonald denied that he saw or spoke to Mr Dornan that evening, although he had passed the woman on the stairs inside the building.
The commissioner found that the “contradictory” reports meant he had been “unable to reach a conclusion” on Mr McDonald’s behaviour at that point, but there was no evidence to suggest it was inappropriate.
However, it was when the staff member returned home that evening that she received the offending Twitter messages from Mr McDonald.
They said: “Cutting me deep.
“That’s twice you’ve dingyed me now. Twice. It’s OK though, I understand.
“My phone wanted to autocorrect dingyed to (sex act) there. Which I’m so glad I noticed before I sent that message.”
The witness said she burst into tears when she saw the messages, which Mr McDonald claimed had been a misguided attempt at humour.
The commissioner concluded that the reference to being “dingyed” – a slang word for ignored – showed the woman had rejected Mr McDonald’s attempts to meet, and the “sexual innuendo” in the third message was “wholly inappropriate”, whatever the intention.
After the Harvey Weinstein harassment scandal erupted last year, the witness wrote a blog about her experience.
The SNP contacted her and asked if she wanted to make a complaint, which she did.
Mr McDonald was informed of the complaint on November 3 last year, and resigned as early years minister the following day.