Scottish Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has resigned after admitting he had “behaved foolishly”, following reports he sent hundreds of messages to a 16-year-old boy.
The father-of-two stepped down just hours before he was due to announce the Scottish Budget for 2020-21.
The Scottish Sun reported Mr Mackay befriended the teenager on Facebook and Instagram and sent him 270 messages.
In one message he is alleged to have asked “And our chats are between us?” and when the boy agreed, the minister 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.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed she has accepted Mr Mackay’s resignation, and said public finance minister Kate Forbes will now deliver the Budget statement instead.
Mr Mackay, who came out as gay in 2013, said: “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.
“Serving in Government has been a huge privilege and I am sorry to have let colleagues and supporters down.”
Ms Sturgeon said: “Derek has taken full responsibility for his actions and apologises unreservedly for them to the individual involved and to those he has let down. He has submitted his resignation as a Government minister, which I have accepted.
“Derek has made a significant contribution to Government, however he recognises that his behaviour has failed to meet the standards required.
“The minister for public finance, Kate Forbes, will present today’s Scottish Government Budget, setting out our actions to support the economy, back our people and public services and tackle the climate crisis, and that remains my Government’s focus.”
In 2017, then childcare minister Mark McDonald quit the Scottish Government after an investigation by the SNP accused him of “inappropriate behaviour”, which was said to include the sending of inappropriate and unwanted text and social media messages.
Opposition politicians said Mr Mackay’s resignation was a “huge blow” for the First Minster.
Tory finance spokesman Murdo Fraser said he had “always enjoyed” working with Mr Mackay, but he had “acted foolishly and is right to resign”.
He tweeted: “This is, however, a huge blow for @NicolaSturgeon to lose such a key member of her Govt at such a crucial time – and one tipped as her successor.”
Scottish Green co-leader Patrick Harvie said: “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.
“Kate Forbes now has one brief opportunity to build political agreement over this month and amend the Budget if necessary.
“Greens will keep pushing for a climate emergency Budget that shifts investment away from high carbon into a sustainable future, while protecting local services.”
Mary Glasgow, chief executive 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.”