Derek Mackay: John Swinney defends SNP’s handling of scandal involving former finance minister

The Scottish National Party has defended how they handled the breaking story around former Finance Minister Derek Mackay.

The graphic story containing his texts to a 16-year-old boy was released by the Sun newspaper yesterday.

In the wake of Mackay’s resignation, John Swinney released this statement defending the Government’s handling of the scandal:

“The government became aware of these allegations at about 6pm on Wednesday night, and we simply – because of the significance of what was being put to us – asked for information to give us the veracity and the substance of the points that were being put to us.”

“We saw nothing in writing until we saw the first edition of The Sun later on Wednesday evening, so we were simply asking for the detail that we would ask in any situation where allegations are being put to us so that we can be confident about the detail that is being asked.”

Mackay resigned from his position yesterday after the Sun released a report about him sending 270 messages to a schoolboy.

The messages include him calling the schoolboy “cute” and inviting him to dinner.

Now, more accusations of harassment have come out about the ex-minister.

An SNP activist, Shaun Cameron, has claimed that Mackay sent him messages for years during his time as an activist.

After the scandal broke, the other parties in Holyrood were quick to make statements about the recent resignation. Scottish Greens parliamentary co-leader Alison Johnstone said:

“Derek Mackay’s behaviour and conduct towards a 16-year old has been utterly unacceptable.”

“His persistent and unwanted approaches represent an abuse of power, and the impact on the family cannot be overstated.”

“It is therefore entirely correct that he is no longer in his position as finance secretary and suspended from his party. The individual and family must receive all the support that they need.”

Mackay resigned from his position after the scandal broke, just hours before the release of the new Holyrood budget.

 A Week in Scottish Politics

 

This past week has been another tumultuous one for British politics, following the great trend of the past few years. With calls for a General Election before Christmas and Britain on track to fly through to another Brexit extension, it can be difficult to keep up with everything that’s happening in the country. And with much of it looking like it will have a direct impact on Scotland as well, let’s break down some of the stories from the week in the orbit of Scottish Politics. With particular interest to what could be brought up at this weeks First Ministers Questions:

Brexit

It is perhaps poor form to write an article about politics without mentioning the B word and Brexit has certainly been a hot button issue this week.

Of course, the big news from this week is the extension to the Brexit deadline until January 31st. This extension is half of the time of the last one from March until now. It’s also a real blow to Boris Johnson’s position after continued insistence that Britain would leave the EU on the 31st of October no matter what.

This comes after a week where Johnson’s deal failed to make its way through the House of Commons which precipitated this extension. Important to note for Scotland, the SNP drew issue with the fact that Scotland was not mentioned once in the Bill that Johnson presented to parliament. With that deal seriously stalled it will be interesting how Sturgeon deals with Scotland’s position as a remain-voting part of the union at today’s FMQs.

 

Scottish Brexit Bill Vote

This issue first raised its head at the start of last week when the presiding officer made the decision not to recall parliament before the end of its recess so they could vote down Johnson’s Brexit Bill and call for another election. At the time, the intention was to reconvene on the 29th and hold that vote then.

No matter what happens, it is likely that the First Minister will be asked many questions about Scotland’s stance on Brexit today. Whether that will be to call for another independence referendum or to continue to disavow Johnson’s handling of the ongoing Brexit negotiations is yet to be seen.

General Election

In the fallout of Johnson’s failure to pass his Brexit deal through the House of Commons was not just a Brexit extension but also the looming possibility of a snap General Election before Christmas. With Johnson currently without a majority in the house of commons after removing the whip from a number of conservative rebels, the hopes for an early general election rely on the support of Jeremy Corbyn.

In talks with Boris Johnson last week, Corbyn stated that Labour would support an early General Election as long as a no-deal Brexit was taken off the table and although many are saying that no-deal could still be a possibility in the future, Labour has backed an early-general election. The date for which will be the 12th of December; the first time an election has been held in December since 1923.

Many MPs, particularly those in the Liberal Democrats, say that this early election is a substitute for a second referendum. Under those circumstances, it will be interesting to see how Nicola Sturgeon addresses it at today’s First Ministers Questions. And how the election can affect the balance of MPs in Scotland.

 

And there are some of the big political stories from the past week. Like many weeks before it, politics in Britain has again been entirely dominated by Brexit. With the general election looming over the horizon, it will be interesting to see where the balance of power will lie a month from now. What the SNPs position in Scotland will look like and whether Johnson will be able to continue his government until the next Brexit deadline remains to be seen.

Sturgeon under fire at tense FM Questions

Today was another Thursday and another First Ministers questions. However, the growing controversies around Mesh and the fresh expenses scandal involving Glasgow’s Lord Provost put Nicola Sturgeon in a difficult position. So, what are these issues?

The Mesh has been used commonly to treat weaknesses in the pelvic wall (often Pelvic Organ Collapse) among women, particularly after childbirth. However, in 2017, the Scottish Government carried out a review of the safety and efficacy of transvaginal meshes and found that not only did it provide no more benefit than surgery to repair native tissue but the high rates of later complications have left many women with chronic pain issues. Many of these complications are so serious that the Mesh is no longer given out by the NHS and numerous law-suits are currently on-going from women who have had their lives seriously impacted by the surgery.

Which brings us to the specific controversy surrounding the Scottish Parliament at the moment. United States based Doctor Dionysios Veronikis, world leading surgeon of Mesh removal, offered to come to Scotland to see as many women as possible and train Scottish surgeons on Mesh-removal.

However, after months of talks with senior health officials, Veronikis now says he cannot come to Scotland and that he “no longer believes officials or surgeons in Scotland ever seriously tried to bring me to Scotland.”

More than that, three Scottish women have gone to Missouri to see Dr Veronikis for surgery. They discovered that their previous surgeries, described by Scottish Surgeons as full Mesh removals, were actually partial Mesh removals and that what was on their medical record was a lie.

In First Ministers Questions today, Jackson Carlow accused Senior NHS Officials and the Government of deliberately obstructing Veronikis’ ability to come to Scotland. Carlow contacted one of Scotland’s leading Mesh experts about the visit, he said:

“I can confirm that surgeons here felt deeply threatened by Dr Veronikis’ offer to visit Scotland. No doubt there is a professional conspiracy against him and his visit. The surgeons suggested another U.S. surgeon, Harold Goldman, who is one of the most prominent proponents of continuing the use of Mesh.”

In response, Sturgeon said that she didn’t know of any evidence of a professional conspiracy about Dr Veronikis’ visit but takes the issue very seriously.

The second big controversy of the day is that of Eva Bolnader, Lord Provost of Glasgow, who is facing criticism after claiming expenses on £8,000 worth of clothing. She has since apologised for the claims but defended that the claims were made “in good faith”.

In FMQs today, Nicola Sturgeon was urged to pressure Bolander to step down from her position but she, too, defended the Provost. Sturgeon said that Bolander had made many legitimate claims and “had reflected” on those that people are criticising.

First Minister’s Questions: As it happened

 

Staring at midday, First Ministers Questions today will feature questions from Patrick Harvie and Alex Cole-Hamilton.

We will be keeping you up to date with everything that happens live here…

11:00

It’s been another big week in politics and Nicola Sturgeon will soon be back in the debating chamber answering questions. In the backdrop of Brexit and politician expenses here’s some of what to expect from today’s FMQs:

With another years Challenge Poverty Week underway, Tom Arthur – SNP MSP for Renfrewshire South – will ask the First Minister about how the government is planning to mark the event.

And Brian Whittle – Conservative MSP for Southern Scotland – is also planning to ask Sturgeon about how the government plans to address reported staffing shortfalls for psychiatric services in Scotland.

12:03

General Questions today has run very slightly over time but FMQs is now underway. Jackson Carlow is asking whether Mesh has become the greatest medical scandal of modern times.

First Minister is responding by saying that is the government priority to stop any new mesh procedures being given out in the NHS and by making sure any women facing medical complications from Mesh receive the proper medical care they require.

Carlow responds by giving credit to the First Minister on the moratorium on Mesh but laments the blocking of a leading doctor to conduct Mesh removal procedures. Claiming that high ranking NHS officials are responsible for this block.

Sturgeon claimed that this block is because of contracting and licensing issues of a foreign doctor to work in the UK and due to various responsibilities the NHS and Doctor Veronikas have been unable to coordinate the organisation of Doctor Veronikas’ license.

12:09

First Minister has said that she is not aware of any evidence of high ranking NHS officials stopping Doctor Veronikas coming to Scotland. However, she re-enforces that she wants all patients in the NHS to get the treatment they need.

Carlow responds that his principle concerns is with the women still affected by Mesh. That many women feel the urgency of this issue requires the intervention of the head of this government and asks if the First Minister will meet them in a tearful speech met with much applause.

Sturgeon has responded that she is happy to meet these women and that she understands the scepticism around how elements in the medical community are dealing with this issue.

12:12

Question two, from Richard Leanord, reminds the First Minister to apologise to the women she meets for the pain caused by the complications from Mesh surgery and is concerned that Doctor Veronikas cannot come to this country.

Sturgeon responds by apologising to “any patient who suffers under the NHS”. In terms of treatment provided in the health service “are in itself an indication of how seriously we treat this issue”. She stresses again that it is her desire to bring Doctor Veronikas here to help the women affected by Mesh related complications.

12:15

Sturgeon claims that women have had full Mesh removal by NHS doctors but is being interrupted by Neil Findlay on the issue. Claiming that full removal was often not taken by the doctors in question.

Richard Leonard says Doctor Veronikas explains in a letter to Neil Findlay why he had stalled coming to the UK: “What has been recorded in their medical records as a full removal was not. It was a Partial Removal”.

To applause he asks why these women were lied to and what she plans to do about it.

 

12:17

Sturgeon says regrets the delays to meet the requirements to bring Doctor Veronikas over to Scotland and that if the doctor is willing to reconsider his position, she would welcome his coming to the country.

She “Can’t stress enough her determination to get to the bottom of why they are in this position”.

Leonard says that the government has lost the confidence of these Mesh affected women and asks if Sturgeon will step in to help these women?

The First Minister said she is “more than willing to speak to the doctor personally” and that she wants to know if there is any evidence that there have been deliberate obstructions to bringing Veronikas to the country.

12:21

Moving on, we are now moving on to some local constituency issues. First up, the issue of Highland Prison staff and maintenence.

Sturgeon re-enforces her commitment to keeping prison systems up to date to ensure the safety of staff and prisoners. Saying that she is also committed to taking measures to bring the number of prisoners in the country down as much as possible.

12:25

The first minister has been asked about how the government plans to deal with the overcrowding at Barlinnie prison. Sturgeon has responded by saying that the plans to introduce a new prison to move the overcrowded population but interim procedures are required whilst that prison is under construction.

12:27

Adam Tomkins has called for the resignation of Glasgows Lord Provost, who is currently caught up in an £8,000 expense scandal.

Sturgeon said that the Lord Provost has said she has revised some of the expenses and said “she should not have made some”. Sturgeon said the Lord provost has reflected “and was perfectly right to do so.

12:29

Patrick Harvie has called for Nicola sturgeon to join him in calling for solidarity with the Kurdish People and denounces the U.S. used military base in Scotland.

Sturgeon responds by saying that the base at Prestwick runs outside of Government involvement. She then personally says that she and the government is deeply opposed to Turkeys unilateral actions in Syria and Trump’s decision to leave the Kurdish People to their situation. Saying its “particularly reprehensible given the sacrifices of the Kurdish people in helping defeat ISIS.

12:32

Patrick Harvie says that the government should stop “Ignoring the significance of this scandal and end the relationship between Prestwick and the U.S. Military”.

12:34

Alex-Cole Hamilton is asking why the First Minister will apologise for the NHS consistently missing targets. Sturgeons responds by saying the NHS is treating more people than ever before and ensuring that “investments are in the right places”.

Sturgeon also says that in comparison to other countries in the UK, Scotland is doing best across the entirety of Britain. Hamilton says “on Mental Health day is the First Minister telling mental health patents to sit back, shut up and wait another year.”

12:37

Sturgeon has hit back at Alex-Cole Hamilton causing murmurs of dissent from the debating chamber.

12:37

Clare Adamson has asked about the impact on Brexit on people’s health and asked if the First Minister is aware that Sally Davis has said that “There may be deaths, we can’t guarantee there won’t” because of medical shortages.

Sturgeon has responded by hoping these comments from Davis will help rule out a No-Deal Brexit. “Do people have to die to get the Government  to wake up and stop a no-deal Brexit.”

12:40

Tom Arthur has asked how the government is marking Child Poverty Week. Sturgeon said that the government is supporting low income housing as well as delivering 87,00 affordable homes since 2007.

Tom Arthur has said that the spirit of the welfare state is “Alive and humming in Scotland”.

12:43

The government has been asked what they will be doing to address the shortfall in psychiatric staff, particularly for children. Sturgeon has responded by re-enforcing the increase in government spending for the mental health sector of the NHS.

Brian Liddle has responded by saying that there is deep lack of staff in the field and that the age of doctors approaching retirement age and asks when the government will provide a realistic workforce plan that can meet the increased demand.

12:45

Sturgeon has said that these issues are not helped by Brexit and discouraging qualified Europeans from coming to Scotland. She says that in the past 6 years they have increased improvement by 8% but that there is “still work to be done”.

12:45

And that concludes today’s First Ministers Questions. It is fair to say that the First Minister received a lot of heavy criticism on many issues to do with the NHS. Particularly the growing controversy around Mesh-related health issues in Scotland

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