The health secretary’s admission
Health Secretary Michael Matheson has admitted that his sons used his parliamentary iPad to watch football matches during a family holiday in Morocco, resulting in an £11,000 data roaming bill that was initially paid by the public purseThis shocking revelation came after weeks of pressure from the Scottish Conservatives, led by Douglas Ross, who demanded transparency and accountability from the SNP minister.
Matheson had previously claimed that he used the iPad for work purposes only, and that the bill was caused by an outdated SIM card. He also said that he had contributed £3,000 from his office expenses to cover part of the cost, and that he would pay back the rest after the story was reported in the press. However, he did not disclose that his sons had accessed the device until last week, when he made an emotional statement to the parliament, apologising for his “mistake”.
The Scottish Tories’ campaign
The Scottish Tories have been relentless in pursuing the iPad scandal, accusing Matheson of lying, misleading the parliament, and abusing public funds. They have also called for his resignation, and threatened to launch a vote of no confidence in him if he did not hand over his iPad to allow its browsing history to be examinedDouglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has been at the forefront of this campaign, using his platform and influence to expose the health secretary’s wrongdoing and demand justice for the taxpayers.
Ross has also tried to use the scandal to attack the SNP’s record and credibility, and to present himself as a strong and effective opposition leader. He has accused First Minister Humza Yousaf of backing Matheson’s “efforts to cover up” the iPad saga, and of being “shifty, rattled and evasive” when questioned about it. He has also claimed that the scandal is a symptom of the SNP’s “arrogance and complacency” after 14 years in power, and that the Scottish Tories are the only party that can hold them to account.
The impact on the polls
However, despite Ross’s efforts to capitalise on the iPad scandal, the latest opinion polls suggest that the Scottish Tories have not gained any ground in the public’s perception. According to a survey by Savanta ComRes for The Scotsman, conducted between 24 and 28 November, the SNP remains the most popular party in Scotland, with 48% of the vote share for the constituency ballot and 41% for the regional list. The Scottish Conservatives are still in second place, but with only 21% and 19% respectively, far behind the SNP and barely ahead of the Scottish LabourThe poll also shows that Ross’s personal ratings are lower than Yousaf’s, with 29% of respondents saying they have a favourable view of the Tory leader, compared to 38% for the first minister.
The iPad scandal, therefore, seems to have had little impact on the Scottish Tories’ prospects, and may even have backfired on them. Some commentators have suggested that Ross’s aggressive and relentless pursuit of Matheson may have been seen as opportunistic and disproportionate, especially in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant. Others have argued that the scandal is too trivial and personal to sway the voters’ opinions on the bigger issues, such as the economy, the health service, and the independence questionThe Scottish Tories, therefore, may have to rethink their strategy and focus on more substantive and relevant matters if they want to challenge the SNP and appeal to the Scottish public.