Former finance secretary Derek Mackay has been suspended from the SNP following reports he sent hundreds of messages to a 16-year-old boy, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed at First Minister’s Questions.
She faced calls to investigate his “predatory” behaviour after Mr Mackay stepped down from his Cabinet post on Thursday.
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 father-of-two, who came out as gay in 2013, quit as finance secretary after The Scottish Sun reported he sent 270 messages to a boy he befriended on Facebook and Instagram.
News of his resignation came hours before he was due to deliver the budget for the coming year – with Public Finance Minister Kate Forbes now stepping in to make the tax and spending announcements.
Speaking at Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said: “Members will be aware that I have accepted the resignation of Derek Mackay as Finance Secretary.
“Derek Mackay has apologised unreservedly for his conduct and recognised, as I do, that it was unacceptable and falls seriously below the standard required of a minister.
“I can also advise that this morning he has been suspended from both the the SNP and our parliamentary group pending further investigation.”
Mr Mackay accepted he had “behaved foolishly” as he apologised unreservedly to the youngster and his family.
In one message, he is alleged to have asked the teenager: “And our chats are between us?”
When the boy agreed, Mr Mackay told him: “Cool, then to be honest I think you are really cute.”
The newspaper alleges he contacted the teenager over a six-month period and offered to take him to a rugby game and out to dinner.
Scottish Tory interim 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 at 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.”
I am in no way minimising the seriousness of what we are discussing todayNicola 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?”
The First Minister 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.”
Ms Sturgeon also said due process would need to be followed in the case of the former finance secretary.
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.”
Meanwhile, 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.”
In November 2017, the SNP suspended Mark McDonald after he resigned as childcare minister over “inappropriate” behaviour said to have involved text messages.
After the story broke Mr Mackay announced he had quit as Finance Secretary with immediate effect.
He stated: “I take full responsibility for my actions. 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.”
He added: “Serving in Government has been a huge privilege and I am sorry to have let colleagues and supporters down.”