Health Secretary Michael Matheson has admitted that his sons watching a Celtic versus Rangers football match on his parliamentary iPad was the cause of an £11,000 data roaming charge.
The bill was incurred during a family holiday trip to Morocco last Christmas.
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, pictured left, said parents of teenagers would understand the scenario, but that “what people will not understand is the cover-up”.
She said Mr Matheson had been “wholly negligent” not to replace his device’s Sim card, and not to keep it secure from being used by others.
Dame Jackie said later though: “It is simply unfathomable that Michael Matheson thinks he can keep his job after deceiving the public and parliament over his actions.
“Michael Matheson said the bill was accrued by conducting parliamentary business – that was clearly not true.
“It beggars belief and raises serious security questions over the fact that Michael Matheson claims that other people can access his parliament iPad.
“Anyone with teenage children will understand the situation – what they will not understand or forgive is the cover-up.
“While our NHS is on its knees and 820,000 people are stuck on waiting lists, the fact that we are discussing Mr Matheson’s conduct shows that he is no longer fit to hold his role.This ultimately was an attempt to cover up wrong doing and would have cost the taxpayer £11,000.”
However, one parliamentarian with a sense of humour, pointed out that it has not been reported by BBC Scotland whether Dame Jackie pressed for the Health Secretary’s resignation as Tory leader Douglas Ross, a part-time football referee, did earlier in the day.
One wag in the press lobby suggested that the public will have to wait and see whether VAR will be brought in to give a final decision on the outcome. It could be just a yellow card.
The expense was initially picked up by the Scottish Parliament, which was told by Mr Matheson that the iPad was only used for work.
He has since paid the money back and said he had referred himself to the parliament for further investigation.
Mr Matheson – who was visibly emotional during a statement to parliament – told MSPs he was not aware that other family members had used the device until last Thursday, after the first media reports about the charges emerged.
The health secretary said he did not mention this in his statement on Friday, in which he announced he would pay the bill himself, because he wanted to protect his children.
He apologised unreservedly to the parliament and said the responsibility for the data usage and iPad was his.
“In my statement issued last Friday I made no reference to the use of data by my family,” Mr Matheson told MSPs.
“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.
“I am a father first and foremost – that was a mistake and I am sorry.
“I can see now that it just isn’t possible to explain the data usage without explaining their role.”
He added: “The simple truth is they watched football matches.”
Mr Matheson said he would refer himself for investigation to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body but is not standing down as health secretary.
Under questioning from opposition MSPs, he said the iPad itself had not been used by his children but had been used as a hotspot to allow internet access for other devices.
He said when he was initially informed about the bill in January, he could not understand why it was so high.
In the absence of a “clear explanation”, he said he thought it would be appropriate for him to contribute £3,000 from his office expenses, with the rest to be paid by parliament.
The data charges, including more than £7,000 on 2 January – when Celtic were playing Rangers – were incurred for using more than 6GB of data on the parliamentary device between 28 December 2022 and 3 January 2023.
A Sim card in the device should have been changed after parliament officials switched a mobile contract from EE to Vodafone in December 2021.
But Mr Matheson failed to replace the Sim despite being told to do so almost a year before his holiday.
The Scottish Conservatives have called for the health secretary to be sacked, and are expected to call a motion of no confidence.
Tory leader Douglas Ross, right, said parliament had been misled by Mr Matheson, who initially told Holyrood officials that his expense claim for the iPad data usage was for legitimate parliamentary work.
At First Minister’s Questions earlier on Thursday, Humza Yousaf said he had “absolute confidence” in Mr Matheson, who he described as a man of “honesty and integrity”.
Mr Yousaf had initially described the £11,000 iPad bill as a “legitimate parliamentary expense” and said Mr Matheson should not have to pay it out of his own pocket.
The health secretary cancelled a planned visit to a Glasgow health centre after parliament published a breakdown of the data usage. A spokesperson said it would be rescheduled for a future date.
Tory MSPs opponents had pointed out that the day Mr Matheson was billed £7,346 – on 2 January for using 3.18GB – coincided with an Old Firm football match.
A further £1,320 charge was listed as a separate entry for 2 January. It is not yet known if the fee could relate to a previous day due to a lag effect in the billing system but there is no figure listed for 1 January.
The next largest fee was on 28 December 2022, when the minster was charged £2,249 for using 1.26GB. A match between Hibernian and Celtic was played on that day.
According to Netflix, 6GB of data can be used to watch about 36 hours of streaming while on a data-saving mode.
On the highest possible streaming quality, 6GB would only provide about 120 minutes of streaming, depending on the device and network speed.
The parliament said that after the bill was received earlier in the year, IT officials checked the iPad to see if it was working. They also examined the mobile data usage, but were only presented with a cumulative total and did not see the browsing history.
The presiding officer confirmed parliament had ordered a review into its data roaming and mobile devices rules to “ensure the present situation cannot happen again”.
Additional reporting by Bill Heaney