In Depth

Why Scotland’s finance minister has resigned hours before budget

Derek Mackay steps down over messages to 16-year-old boy on social media

Scotland’s finance secretary has quit just hours before he was to deliver the nation’s budget, amid reports that he bombarded a 16-year-old boy with hundreds of messages on social media.

The Scottish Sun claims that Derek Mackay “pestered” the teenager on Instagram and Facebook after contacting him “out of the blue”.

Announcing his resignation, the Scottish National Party (SNP) minister said he took “full responsibility” for his “foolish actions”.

What happened?

According to The Scottish Sun, 42-year-old Mackay contacted the teenager on Facebook in August and had been messaging him up until earlier this week.

The openly gay father-of-two - who came out after leaving his wife in 2013 - reportedly sent the boy around 270 messages on the social media network and Instagram.

The BBC says Mackay allegedly “invited him to dinner and to attend a rugby event” and also “contacted the boy several times on Christmas Day”. On another occasion, the MSP reportedly said the teen was “looking good with that new haircut”.

In one message, the politician is said to have asked: “Our chats are between us?”

When the boy replied that they were, Mackay reportedly responded: “Cool, then to be honest I think you are really cute.”

The messages continued even after the boy confirmed that he was 16 and warned Mackay not to “try anything”, The Scottish Sun claims.

In the wake of the allegations, Mackay announced on Thursday that he was handing in his resignation “with immediate effect”. 

The MSP - who Sky News says “had been tipped as a possible successor to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon” - had served as finance secretary since 2016.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said. “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.”

In a statement, Sturgeon said that Mackay had made “a significant contribution to government” but “recognises that his behaviour has failed to meet the standards required”. 

What about the timing?

Mackay had been due at Holyrood today to deliver his government’s £43bn draft budget for the coming year, which is now being presented by his deputy, Kate Forbes, The Guardian reports.

His resignation “on the eve of the budget will be blow to Sturgeon”, according to the newspaper, which says that as well as setting out detailed spending plans on the climate crisis, infrastructure and public services, Mackay had been expected to “criticise the UK government’s decision to delay its budget until early March”.

The Treasury’s spending decisions influence about £20bn of spending by the Scottish government, so the delay had hindered Mackay’s ability to plan his budget.

Interim Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw says that as well as resigning from his role as finance secretary, Mackay should also consider standing down as an MSP, triggering a by-election in his Renfrewshire North and West seat. 

Speaking to Sky News, Carlaw said: “I think there will be huge question to be asked, parents who will be concerned, and I think many colleagues in Parliament who will wonder if Mr Mackay can continue to enjoy the confidence of his constituents or Parliament.

“It’s a huge blow to politics in Scotland.”

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