I can’t think of any private companies which would wave away a suspicious £11,000 iPad data bill as if it wasn’t of much consequence.
It wouldn’t happen.
Questions would be asked, full explanations demanded in forensic detail. Even disciplinary action could follow, possibly resulting in a charge of gross misconduct, and the culprit sacked for trashing the firm’s integrity.
This is what happens to ordinary people in the real world.
In the case of the farce being performed by Scotland’s health secretary Michael Matheson and First Minister Humza Yousaf, it’s a different kettle of fish entirely.
As I reflected before the SNP conference in Aberdeen, some are more equal than others in the Scottish Government’s world. The normal rules didn’t apply until Matheson – with Yousaf clinging to his coat-tails – was flushed out by media flamethrowers.
People might moan about journalists; that happens with a free media not suppressed – or oppressed – by the state. But, when the bit is between their teeth and at full gallop, they get into places ordinary people can’t when it comes to challenging those in power about misusing privileges.
Of course, it has to be said that an ordinary person running up such grotesque data roaming charges in a private enterprise, or a lowly public servant, would not have their dirty linen hung out in public. But someone in authority would still need to hear the grisly truth in every detail, and act upon it in the interests of good management to keep things “clean” for the well-being of any organisation.
I recall having to investigate this type of thing from time to time in a company setting. Squirming as we went over a potential salacious search history which was excessive enough – in company time – to attract the attention of the IT people. But I always knew it was necessary in extreme cases of dodgy behaviour to step in.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that there was anything salacious in the Matheson story, but I’m surprised the police have not given his devices the once-over in the interests of state security. Who knows if other internet interlopers might have piggybacked on top of his family’s antics in Morocco?
Matheson’s credibility will continue to drain
The pursuit of Matheson, as a powerful politician, was wholly justified in the public interest. He was duty-bound to don sackcloth and ashes while recounting – publicly and painfully – his sons’ misdemeanours after they accessed his ministerial device.
I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last of it, after Matheson was accused repeatedly of lying to parliament and the Scottish people. The risk of public disgrace goes hand in hand with abusing the trappings of power.
As he bluffs on, it is inevitable that the minister’s credibility will continue to drain, like blood from a mortally wounded animal. Especially as he runs the health service – where a part-time care worker protecting the most vulnerable in our communities might take a year to earn £11,000.
What would people now say if he orders health workers to buckle their belts because public money is being wasted?
In reassuring news, Shona Robison has today insisted Scottish Government ministers "aim" to tell the truth.
— Chris McCall (@Dennynews) November 23, 2023
Yousaf has come out of it smelling like something Monty Don puts on his agapanthus. His initial endorsements of Matheson’s flaky, unconvincing excuses reminded me of something. Like the cosy bonhomie of a gentlemen’s club in Mayfair, or maybe a social gathering of motorhome owners.
You can’t run a government by saying: “There’s nothing to see here, move on” when the alarm bells are drowning you out.
A half-decent manager in any organisation knows you can’t just take someone’s word for granted in situations like this, where you sense there is no smoke without fire.
For Yousaf to seemingly invoke the old pals’ act so quickly fell below the standards expected of a first minister. He was either gullible to a chronic degree, or as politically devious as the minister he was trying to shield from public accountability.
Attempts to deflect didn’t work
It’s an age-old rule that ducking and diving simply stores up worse trouble for later, when it all comes out. The next time either of them says: “There’s nothing to see”, you can imagine a somewhat sceptical reaction.
The Matheson-Yousaf fiasco illustrates that all politicians have this mentality, whatever their party colour. This double act reminded me of Boris Johnson telling MPs he had been assured there was no wrongdoing over partygate, but without double-checking himself.
Can they trust the Scottish Government’s honesty and transparency?
Whenever a hand grenade explodes under the SNP government, I sense that the first thing they do is check the mirror to see if their independence cap is still in place. Nothing is allowed to trample on that fragile perception.
This is why various SNP figures tried to deflect attention, which didn’t reflect The P&J’s bulging postbag from readers furious over Matheson’s cover-up.
Can they trust the Scottish Government’s honesty and transparency? I think that’s at least one answer they are clear about.
David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of The Press and Journal