Scotland’s finance secretary has been suspended from the SNP over allegations that he sent hundreds of messages to a 16-year-old boy, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.
Speaking at first minister’s questions (FMQs), Ms Sturgeon said his conduct “falls seriously below the standard required of a minister” and he had been suspended from both the party and the SNP parliamentary group at Holyrood “pending further investigation”.
The first minister now faces calls to investigate his “predatory” behaviour after Mr Mackay resigned as finance secretary after it was reported that he befriended the teenager on Facebook and Instagram and sent him 270 messages.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Derek Mackay has apologised unreservedly for his conduct, and recognised – as I do – that it was unacceptable and falls seriously below the standards required of a minister.
“I can also advise that he has this morning been suspended from both the SNP and our parliamentary group pending further investigation.”
In a statement this morning, Mr Mackay said he took “full responsibility for my actions”.
The father of two, who came out as gay in 2013, added: “I have behaved foolishly and I am truly sorry. I apologise unreservedly to the individual involved and his family.
“I spoke last night with the first minister and tendered my resignation with immediate effect. Serving in government has been a huge privilege and I am sorry to have let colleagues and supporters down.”
Mr Mackay had been due to unveil the Scottish government’s budget for the next financial year on Thursday. It will now be presented by public finance minister Kate Forbes.
Mr Mackay’s resignation and suspension came after the Scottish Sun alleged that he contacted the teenager over a six-month period and offered to take him to a rugby game and out to dinner.
The newspaper published a string of messages, including one in which the boy tells the former finance secretary that he is 16.
In one message Mr Mackay is alleged to have asked “And our chats are between us?” and when the boy agrees told him: “Cool, then to be honest I think you are really cute.”
Acting Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw asked Ms Sturgeon at FMQs if the reputation of the Scottish parliament could survive while Mr Mackay remained a member.
She said: ”Clearly there are issues that Derek Mackay will need to reflect on. Based on what I knew last night it was clear to me that Derek Mackay remaining in government was simply not an option.
“Having seen the fuller detail … further action has been taken in relation to his membership of the SNP and the parliamentary group. There are very serious matters for me to have to deal with … and there will be matters that Derek Mackay will be reflecting on and will continue to have to reflect on.”
‘Clearly there are issues that Derek Mackay will need to reflect on,” says Nicola Sturgeon
Mr Carlaw also read aloud the NSPCC definition of grooming, before asking the first minister if she believed Mr Mackay’s behaviour could be considered as such, asking: “How difficult is it to reconcile (Mr Mackay’s) conduct with the very worst connotation?”
Ms Sturgeon responded: “I’m not sure if Jackson Carlaw has been paying close attention to my answers – I am in no way minimising the seriousness of what we are discussing today.”
The first minister also said due process would need to be followed in the case of the former finance secretary.
Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said Mr Mackay should now step down as the MSP for Renfrewshire North and West.
He told ITV Border: “It is really about the standards that we would expect from MSPs at this time and I think Derek Mackay has not behaved in the standard that we would expect from a member of the Scottish Parliament.
“I think it would be time for him to resign now.”
Derek Mackay ‘should step down as MSP’, says Willie Rennie
Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard said: “Derek Mackay has acted beyond ‘foolishly’ – his actions are predatory and must be thoroughly investigated.
“He has abused his position of power with a vulnerable adolescent. The nature and the gravity of these allegations demands decisive action.”
Earlier in the day, Mary Glasgow, CEO of the children’s charity Children 1st, said: “By resigning Derek Mackay has acknowledged that his behaviour was inappropriate.
“Children 1st has always been clear that children and young people are vulnerable in situations where there is a significant difference in age, power and status between them and another person.
“Society should recognise by now that it is never acceptable to exploit that vulnerability.”