Shamed MSP Mark McDonald facing suspension

21 June 2018, 16:12 | Updated: 21 June 2018, 16:19

Mark McDonald MSP

An MSP is facing a month-long suspension without pay from Holyrood after an investigation concluded he sexually harassed a woman.

Holyrood's Standards Committee has recommended the sanction for Aberdeen Donside independent Mark McDonald after he was found to have twice breached the code of conduct for MSPs.

Mr McDonald said he accepted the findings of the Commissioner for Ethical Standards in Public Life in relation to the two breaches and would abide by the outcome of a full parliamentary vote on the proposed sanctions, expected next week.

He stood down as childcare minister after allegations first emerged about his behaviour in November last year and later quit the SNP after an internal investigation.

The commissioner was asked by the committee to investigate Mr McDonald's conduct after SNP MSP James Dornan made an official complaint in March.

The investigation concluded that a social media message he had sent to a female member of staff "involved sexual harassment" because it "contained sexual innuendo by association".

Screenshots of the message show Mr McDonald joked that his phone's autocorrect had wanted to changed the word "dingyed" to "fingered" in the sentence "that's twice you've dingyed me now" after a couple of failed attempts to meet up with the woman.

The married father-of-two said he accepted the message was inappropriate and that was why he had resigned, but did not accept the finding that it constituted sexual harassment.

He also accepted the second breach of the code, that he failed to treat a member of staff with respect by asking her to make a payment of £476 for a flat deposit and not reimbursing her for around 24 days.

Mr Dornan had alleged that the woman had been a "targeted victim of harassment and sexual innuendo" at the hands of Mr McDonald.

However the commissioner found no evidence to support some of the allegations made, including that he "skulked" about the parliament waiting for the woman and contributed to her ill-health.

Setting out the committee's recommendations, convener Clare Haughey said it wanted to send a "clear signal about the seriousness of Mark McDonald's conduct".

But she also criticised Mr Dornan's decision to share details of his complaint with the media.

She said: "We consider it unacceptable that the confidentiality requirements have been flouted more than once during the course of this complaint.

"This is disrespectful to the process and those involved, as well as to the Committee and the Parliament."

In a statement Mr McDonald said the commissioner's report had "disproved or disregarded the overwhelming majority of Mr Dornan's complaint".

"The manner in which Mr Dornan chose to publicise his complaint, and make lurid allegations against me, has had a significant and lasting impact upon my personal mental health and well-being, and has thus affected my family," he added.

"I am grateful that these allegations have not been upheld, as I have always denied them."

The committee has also recommended Mr McDonald be banned from the parliamentary complex for a month and have "rights to any representational, ceremonial and related privileges" withdrawn for that period.

Mr McDonald faced calls for him to step down from his seat entirely.

Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie said: "The people of Aberdeen Donside have already endured four months with an absent MSP after his self-imposed exile.

"This unprecedented sanction means they will go unrepresented in parliament once more.

"That's simply not good enough. Mark McDonald ought to reflect on his position and resign."

Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: "Mark McDonald has let down his constituents and it is clear to everyone except him that he is totally unfit to represent the people of Donside.

"It is right that he faces a sanction for his behaviour, but the reality is the proposed action does not go far enough.

"Anyone with an ounce of decency in his position would do the right thing and immediately resign as an MSP."