Scotland politics

Mark McDonald faces month suspension over sexual harassment

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Media captionMark Mcdonald says he wishes he could unsend the inappropriate text that led to him being found guilty of sexual harassment.

An MSP faces being suspended from Holyrood for a month after he was found guilty of sexual harassment.

Mark McDonald resigned as early years minister in November 2017 after he sent an "inappropriate" text message to a woman. He later quit the SNP.

The Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life concluded that the case amounted to sexual harassment.

Holyrood's standards committee has now recommended Mr McDonald be suspended without pay for a month.

The final decision on the sanction will be made by parliament as a whole, and the suspension period will not include the upcoming summer recess.

Mr McDonald said he accepted the findings of the commissioner's report into the case, but said it "disproved or disregarded the overwhelming majority" of the complaint made against him.

Mr McDonald's former SNP colleague James Dornan had claimed that the then-minister "used his position" to "harass" a female member of staff.

The ethical standards commissioner concluded that Mr McDonald had "failed to treat one witness with respect, and that his conduct towards her involved sexual harassment".

He was also found to have failed to treat a second woman with respect by asking her to pay a £476 deposit on a flat on his behalf and taking more than three weeks to pay her back.

'Clear signal'

Standards committee convener Clare Haughey said both of these cases were in breach of the code of conduct for MSPs, and justified sanctions.

She said members wanted to send a "clear signal about the seriousness of Mark McDonald's conduct", and recommended excluding him from Holyrood for a month without pay.

But Ms Haughey criticised Mr Dornan for disclosing details about his complaint to the media, saying that "confidentiality requirements have been flouted more than once during the course of this complaint".

Image caption The watchdog was investigating a complaint made against Mr McDonald by fellow MSP James Dornan

Mr McDonald has previously said he is "morally justified" in staying on as an independent MSP, although other members including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon have urged him to stand down.

The Aberdeen Donside representative left his ministerial role in November 2017 after reports that he had sent a social media message to a woman which contained a reference to a sex act.

He initially said that "some of my previous actions have been considered to be inappropriate", before later conceding that his actions had caused "considerable distress and upset".

The married father-of-two was subsequently suspended from the SNP after "new information" about his behaviour came to light, and he was absent from parliament for four months while this was investigated by the party.

He quit the SNP group in March 2018, but returned to Holyrood as an independent MSP saying he would "keep my head down and do the job that I was elected to do".

Borrowing money

Holyrood's standards committee called in the ethics watchdog later that month, after Mr Dornan wrote to them claiming that Mr McDonald had harassed a member of his staff.

The Glasgow Cathcart MSP claimed that the unnamed woman was "so unwell due to stress" that she was admitted to hospital having suffered a stroke.

Mr Dornan also said that while the woman was "under other immense pressure" it had been "compounded by a member who should have known better and who, in my opinion, used his position to harass her".

However the commissioner's report concluded that there was "no evidence to support" the assertion that Mr McDonald had been "waiting or skulking in the Garden Lobby area", as had been claimed, and said the woman's account did not chime with Mr Dornan's.

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Image caption Mark McDonald has insisted he is "morally justified" staying on as an MSP despite quitting the SNP

Mr McDonald said the "very salacious and lurid allegations" made by Mr Dornan had a "significant and lasting impact upon my person mental health and wellbeing", and said he was "grateful" that they had not been upheld.

Mr Dornan responded that Mr McDonald "deserves everything he gets", saying he ought to consider his position as an MSP.

While accepting the findings of the report, Mr McDonald insisted that the message he sent was inappropriate but did not constitute sexual harassment.

He said: "I have regretted it from the moment it was brought to my attention. I wish I could go back and unsend it, but I can't. Therefore I have to deal with the consequences of my actions."

'Accept the outcome'

Mr McDonald said he would "accept the outcome" of the vote of MSPs on his punishment, and said he would "continue to represent the interests of my constituents diligently".

The sanction proposed by the committee involves barring Mr McDonald from the Holyrood estate for a month, without pay, and withdrawing his rights to any "ceremonial privileges".

MSPs can be barred from parliament for a certain length of time for breaking rules, but cannot be forced to stand down entirely unless they are jailed for a year or more.

The Scottish Lib Dems have called for this to change, saying a system of recall should be set up to "sack MSPs in cases of proven misconduct".

There were also calls for reform of Holyrood payments after it emerged that Mr McDonald was automatically given a £7,270 "resettlement grant" after leaving his ministerial role.

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