Derek Mackay and the Sun

EdinburghEye on Ko-FiThis was first posted on Facebook on 6th February 2020, with support from my Ko-Fi network.

Derek Mackay has been MSP for Renfrewshire North and West since 2011: he came out as gay in 2013, and also separated from his wife.

Derek Mackay was from 18 May 2016 til this morning, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work – the SNP’s Finance Minister.

Today is budget day in the Scottish Parliament, and slso First Minister’s Questions – Nicola Sturgeon will take questions from asembled MSPs of all parties from 12 to 1245.

Last night at 11:30pm the Scottish Sun published a story which is well-sourced, accurate, and explosive: back in August last year, Derek Mackay spotted a young man he fancied on instagram, and messaged him. The young man says the message came “out of the blue” and he didn’t realise Derek Mackay was the MSP for a while.

The young man was 16, at school, living at home, and Derek Mackay asked him not to tell anyone about these messages. Derek Mackay is 42.

Derek Mackay never met this young man, though he frequently proposed they should – offering to pay for tickets to a rugby game, suggesting they meet for dinner.

By the end of December, the young man had evidently decided he didn’t like this situation and he stopped messaging Derek Mackay back.

Mackay’s messages to the young man went on. The Scottish Sun – and in this instance I see no reason to doubt their reporting – says Mackay sent over 270 messages via text and instagram to the young man since August.

I hope I don’t need to explain how predatory this behaviour was. Sixteen is the legal age of consent, but the age gap and the power differential would make me look dubiously at even a consensual relationship between two people this far apart both in age and in life stages.

The young man’s mother, who’s 37, found out about the texting last week, and was understandably and justly furious and frightened at what had happened – and what had nearly happened to her son except he never had responded to any of Derek Mackay’s requests to meet up.

Derek Mackay didn’t attempt to deny or excuse what had happened: he promptly resigned as Finance Minister and has had the whip withdrawn so he no longer sits as SNP MSP. (Resignation as MSP for his constituency, triggering a by-election, is not something that can or should happen on the spot, especially given the further factors in play.)

I’m presuming, without any knowledge, that the young man’s mother attempted to find out if there was any legal action that she could take against Derek Mackay, and I doubt that there is. While he’s in a position of authority, he is not directly in a position of authority over this young man – not a teacher or employer or scouting unit leader. The young man was over 16, and Derek Mackay knew that: and the texts that I have seen do not constitute obscene harassment, though harassment I would say there very definitely is.

Remains the basic power of the small person against the powerful: raise a bloody stink.

I presume then she went to the Scottish Sun, looking for help in raising a stink, and she got it.

And for this – just for once – the Scottish Sun was doing the right thing. Any newspaper worthy of the name would publish this kind of story: a government Minister caught sending highly inappropriate messages to a teenager over the space of months.

But all that said:

I wonder, when did the Scottish Sun get this story, and when did they decide to publish it this morning?

There is no time when this story would have been good for the SNP, except in proving they can and do react fast as a party in evicting the unacceptable: Derek Mackay is no longer a minister and no longer a SNP MSP, though e joined the party when he was 16 and has worked for it and represented it as councillor and MSP since 1999. His behavious was unacceptable, he’s out.

But of all the days in the year to lose your Finance Minister, budget day is very definitely the worst.

Someone must present the budget to the Scottish Parliament. The budget can’t be delayed – Scottish councils deserve a full month til their legal deadline for budgets on 11th March, and there is a week allowed for debate and amendments.

The job of presenting the budget to the Scottish Parliament this afternoon has been handed to Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch,and 29-year-old Minister for Public Finance and Digital Economy since 27th June 2018. This would not have been the job she was expecting to do when she went to sleep last night.

So, while entirely supporting the young man’s mother in her right to raise a stink about Derek Mackay’s predatory pursuit of her son, and her right to choose the paper to help her raise this stink, and the Scottish Sun‘s right to take the story and blow it all over the front page –

I still wonder: When did the Scottish Sun decide on what day they were going to publish this story?

There are 129 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament: this includes the Speaker, who – as at Westminster – is of no party affiliation. As of this hour, Nicola Sturgeon has 62 SNP MSPs – two short of a majority.

The Scottish Greens have six MSPs and customarily vote with the SNP on confidence and supply – that is, while they often seek and get amendments to the Scottish Government’s budget, they do not outright refuse to support it, since doing so would trigger a Scottish Parliament general election (in this instance, a year and four months early).

If the Tories (31) Labour (23) and LibDems (5) vote together against the SNP Government’s budget, they still can’t bring down the government with 59 votes – they would need the support of the Greens.

From comments made by Patrick Harvie, MSP and co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, the Greens do not intend to bring about the fall of the Scottish government this week, but will certainly be using their leverage to get changes over the next week. For this they will undoubtedly get stick from Labour, the Tories, and the LibDems, for voting for a budget where the Minister who oversaw it has just resigned in disgrace.

Patrick Harvie on Twitter: “Derek Mackay’s behaviour was utterly unacceptable, and his resignation was clearly necessary. But we are now just hours from publication of the Scottish budget, in what were already unprecedented circumstances. It’s vital now that all parties put the public interest first.”

The deadline for Scottish councils to present their budgets is 11th March.

Therefore, for the sake of public services throughout Scotland, the SNP government budget must be passed by next week.

If the SNP government falls, and a Scottish Parliamentary election is triggered, no budget can be passed til after the election – and the Scottish local authorities who need to pass a budget by the 11th of March are left hanging in the wind. Note that a Scottish government budget would likely have happened sooner – they published an autumn budget on 26th September 2019 – except that the Scottish budget is dependent in part on the block grant from Westminster, and the UK government hasn’t had a budget day since 29th October 2018. Boris Johnson cancelled the budget day planned for 6th November 2019 to have a general election instead. Sajid Javid has announced the UK budget day is 11th March – no apologies or consideration to Scottish local authorities, of course.

So, like I said, while I couldn’t blame the Scottish Sun if they broke this story as soon as they got it – did they? Or did they delay publication, even by a day or two, to maximise its effect on the Scottish government and budget?

Update, half-past midnight

While I still don’t have any time at all for the Sun, it doesn’t appear that they can have delayed publication of this story by much as apparently the boy’s mother only contacted them with the story at the weekend, and it also appears that it is not true that they only contacted Derek Mackay just before the story went live on their website at 11:30pm at night. The Sun contacted Nicola Sturgeon about 5:30pm Wednesday. She declined to give them the additional story of Mackay having the whip withdrawn or resigning as Finance Minister: Derek Mackay had a few hours to tell his family, and Nicola Sturgeon made a short statement about his Ministerial resignation the next morning and then about the whip being withdrawn a few hours later.

Mackay’s resignation from his seat as an MSP is still under discussion. This is not helped, I imagine, by the fact that there is no way to force Mackay to resign unless he is sentenced to at least a year in prison, and resignation mid-term as a MSP is purposefully discouraged by financial penalties – the Scottish Parliament is set up that way.

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