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Labour MSP suspended for shouting abuse at Presiding Officer

A Labour MSP has been suspended from Holyrood after he branded the Presiding Officer "out of order".

Michael McMahon

Michael McMahon, who has been suspended for a day, shouted the abuse at the Scottish Parliament's Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick yesterday afternoon.

It came after it emerged the Parliament's official report had to be corrected because the First Minister told MSPs there were about about 18,000 people employed in renewable energy across Scotland, when the total is closer to 11,000.

The Tories raised that issue in Holyrood yesterday afternoon, shortly before the close of business. But there were protests from some MSPs when the Presiding Officer attempted to move on to the next item on the agenda.

After Ms Marwick called for order, it is understood Mr McMahon said "You're out of order" to the Presiding Officer. She demanded the Labour MSP for Uddingston and Bellshill withdraw the remark and Mr McMahon apologised immediately to her.

Ms Marwick today told MSPs that he had shown "gross disrespect and discourtesy to the chair", but Mr McMahon insisted that his suspension was "disproportionate" and accused the SNP of using its Holyrood majority to close down inquiries and edit out criticism.

Announcing his suspension to MSPs this morning, Ms Marwick said: "The standing orders of this Parliament explicitly state that members shall respect the authority of the Presiding Officer.

"It is inevitable that decisions of the chair will not meet the approval of all members at all times. That has always been the case. Nevertheless, it is imperative that the authority of the chair is respected at all times.

"If that were not the case, the Parliament would be unable to carry out the functions that the people of Scotland have asked us to undertake.

"Yesterday, Michael McMahon showed gross discourtesy and disrespect to the chair. However, as I did not clearly hear what the member said at the time, I decided to speak to him privately and to take time to study the official report of proceedings once it was available.

"I acknowledged that Mr McMahon apologised. Had Mr McMahon not done so, I would have referred the matter to the Parliamentary Bureau, so serious did I consider his discourtesy to the chair.

"Taking all of the circumstances into account, I have decided to exclude Mr McMahon from the chamber for the duration of today's chamber business. This is not a decision I have taken lightly.

"Members will recall that on 30 October, I referred to Donald Dewar's words on the opening of the Scottish Parliament when he explained to us, 'This is about more than our politics and our laws. This is about who we are, how we carry ourselves'.

"I told members then that I expected them to consider very carefully their choice of words and the tone in which they are delivered. It is a matter of regret that a few short weeks later we have witnessed the type of behaviour that Mr McMahon displayed yesterday.

"We have important business in front of us. As parliamentarians, those who elect us to this place look to us to show leadership and to debate the issues before us with respect and dignity for the institution of Parliament.

"As Presiding Officer I will support to the limits of my power the conduct of parliamentary business in this chamber. I will, however, not tolerate behaviour that falls short of the standards that the people we are privileged to represent expect of us."

However, Mr McMahon said later: "The Government had changed the official report and Parliament had not been informed. I believe that Parliament should have some authority to call ministers to account for that.

"She was calling for order and, mistakenly in the heat of the moment through my frustration, I made a comment that I instantly regretted.

"I accept that I have been suspended, but I think that was disproportionate. I think I am entitled to my opinion on what the decision was."

When asked if he had concerns about the Presiding Officer's former party affiliation as a member of the SNP, Mr McMahon said: "I am making this statement because I have been suspended. I am explaining why I said what I said and contextualising that, and my concerns about the wider reputation of the Scottish Parliament."

When asked if he believed the Presiding Officer was showing favouritism, he said: "I believe that we have to get the reputation of this Parliament in hand, and I'm asking for the Parliament to look again at whether the Presiding Officer should be given some authority.

"I'm not going to make this about the Presiding Officer. I've made a mistake, I've apologised for that mistake. I'm more concerned about the reputation of the Parliament in the wider context.

"At the present time the way the Parliament is being projected is the overwhelming force of the Scottish Government is not helping the Parliament reputation, and I wanted to take this opportunity to say that is what is frustrating me and that is what led me to make my comment."

He called for the Presiding Officer to be given more power to hold ministers to account for the veracity of their statements.
"The SNP use their majority to close down committee inquiries and edit out criticism of the Government from reports," Mr McMahon said.

"Essentially the SNP are using their majority to further their party interests and not the national interest, at the expense of the reputation of parliament.

"While I recognise that the SNP won a majority of seats in the last election they should remember that they have a duty to this Parliament and the whole of Scotland.

"While I fully accept that was I wrong to make the comment I did, I do not believe that the punishment I have received is proportionate."

Under Holyrood's standing orders, MSPs should "at all times conduct themselves in a courteous and respectful manner and shall respect the authority of the Presiding Officer".

They are also expected to "conduct themselves in an orderly manner and, in particular, shall not conduct themselves in a manner which would constitute a criminal offence or contempt of court".

The last time an MSP was excluded from Holyrood's chamber was in May 2004 when Scottish Socialist Party MSP Carolyn Leckie was ruled to have behaved in a disorderly manner by Presiding Officer George Reid.

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