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Row over Matheson has not derailed SNP election campaign, says Swinney

The First Minister said Scots were more concerned with the cost of living, Brexit and austerity.

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Michael Matheson’s sanctions have not overshadowed the first week of the SNP’s General Election campaign, First Minister John Swinney has said.

MSPs will decide on Wednesday if they agree with the Standards Committee recommendation that the former health secretary should be barred from Holyrood for 27 sitting days and lose his salary for 54.

Mr Matheson was found to have breached the code of conduct for MSPs by racking up a near-£11,000 roaming bill on his parliamentary iPad while on holiday in Morocco, which later he said was caused by his children watching football.

Mr Swinney later described the process as “prejudiced” due to comments made by a Tory member of the committee, Annie Wells.

Michael Matheson
Former health secretary Michael Matheson is facing a 27-day suspension (Jane Barlow/PA)

But speaking to journalists during a visit to the Scottish Poetry Library on Tuesday, the First Minister said it was not overshadowing the SNP’s campaign.

“I’ve been out and about, talking to lots and lots of people as part of my travels around the country and people are talking to me about a whole range of different issues which matter to them,” he said.

“Those matters are about the effect of austerity on our public services, businesses that are telling me that Brexit is causing them ongoing difficulties and then I can’t speak to a household without them expressing concern about the cost of living.

Douglas Ross
The Scottish Tories launched their election campaign on Tuesday (Andrew Milligan/PA)

During his visit to an exhibit of poems written by Palestinian children, the First Minister reiterated calls for the UK Government to recognise Palestine as a state, following on from Ireland.

Mr Swinney also refused to say if SNP MSPs would be whipped to vote against the sanctions against Mr Matheson when they got before MSPs on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Tories launched their campaign in Perth – the seat held by Mr Swinney at Holyrood – on Tuesday.

“Let’s seize on this one in a generation chance to deliver a fatal blow to the SNP,” he said.

“Let’s grab the chance to kick out their candidates in every part of Scotland, let’s bring the curtain down on the SNP’s domination of Scottish politics.

“Now is the time to give them the election nightmare that is long overdue.”

Mr Ross’ comments come after Sir Keir Starmer said Scotland was “key to delivering the change” the UK needs as he pushed to woo voters north of the border.

Writing in the Daily Record, Sir Keir said: “Scotland is key to delivering the change our entire country needs.

“This election is the chance for Scotland to not just send a message to Westminster, but to send a government.”

Responding, SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said: “The so-called change offered by the Labour Party is nothing more than the Westminster status quo which has inflicted austerity, Brexit and a cost-of-living crisis on the people of Scotland.

“Real change is only possible with independence, and the SNP is the only party fighting for that future – one where decisions are made in Scotland, for Scotland.”

While campaigning in East Renfrewshire, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar stressed that the party was not complacent, despite good recent polling.

Speaking as he campaigned with local candidate Blair McDougall, Mr Sarwar told the PA news agency: “There is no hint of complacency from the Scottish Labour party, we have no reason to be complacent given the last 17 years and the challenges we have faced and my message to the electorate is really direct, every vote for Scottish Labour is a vote to get rid of the Tories, to maximise Scotland’s influence and deliver the change our country needs.

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