John Swinney has said he will not back calls for Michael Matheson to be banned from Holyrood as the Standards Committee's probe has been "prejudiced." 

In a staggering development, the First Minister said comments by a Tory member meant that his “friend and colleague” did not get a fair hearing. 

The committee recommended the ex-health secretary be suspended for 27 days over his £11,000 iPad expenses scandal.

The cross-party group of MSPs also called for his salary to be withdrawn for 54 days, a financial penalty roughly equivalent to the size of the ex-health secretary's data roaming bill. 

It was one of the harshest sanctions ever meted out by the committee.

Parliament is due to vote on whether to approve the recommendations, but Mr Swinney's comments suggest the SNP will not support the punishment. 

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Asked about the committee's decision during First Minister's Questions, Mr Swinney pointed to remarks made by Annie Wells when she said the "desperate efforts" by Mr Matheson to justify his expenses claim had been "riddled with lies, cover-ups and the need for us all to suspend our disbelief."

Mr Swinney said that if a constituent was facing disciplinary action at work and their employer made similar comments, he would “come down on that employer like a tonne of bricks”.

He added: “That is the situation that Michael Matheson is facing here, and that is why I will not be supporting the sanction.”

The First Minister said Mr Matheson has “suffered significant reputational damage and impact on his family as a consequence of losing office and the difficulties that have been created here”, and added he has paid back the roaming costs.

“This Parliament needs to consider seriously the reputational damage that will arise from presiding over an unfair process,” he added.

 Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accused Mr Matheson of “deceit and abuse of trust.”

He said his party would table a motion calling on the ex-minister to resign next week. While that would not be binding, it could be embarrassing. It will only pass if backed by every opposition party.

Mr Ross said: “That is incredible and indefensible by the First Minister.

“He told us when asking for our support to make him First Minister, he would be First Minister for all of Scotland.

“What Scotland is seeing is he’s a First Minister that backs his pals.”Mr Ross said if the vote is approved, a by-election could be held on July 4 – the same date as the General Election.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the comments from the First Minister were “utterly unbelievable and embarrassing”.

He added: “He has demeaned himself and the office of First Minister.

“Two weeks in and the pretence of a new kind of Government is gone.

“Party first – country second.

“It’s not the actions of a committee that should be judged, it’s the actions of a member who attempted to wrongly claim £11,000 of public money.”

Mr Sarwar urged the First Minister to “do the right thing for once and put the integrity of our Parliament and our democracy before your political party and demand that Michael Matheson resigns so the people of his constituency can vote for someone who is on their side, not fighting for themselves”.

Responding, the First Minister said he twice wrote to the convener of the committee with concerns about the fairness of the process.

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Mr Matheson first came under scrutiny last November when the Daily Telegraph uncovered a £10,935.74 data roaming bill.

He initially agreed to pay £3,000 from his taxpayer-funded expenses, with the Scottish Parliament picking up the rest.

However, days later, after journalists and MSPs queried the charge, he agreed to pay the full amount from his own pocket.

At first, he claimed the bill was the result of parliamentary work while on a family holiday in Morrocco and a misunderstanding with a new sim card.

He then told MSPs in an emotional statement on November 16 that he had discovered his sons had been watching football during the family trip.

He said he had been told by his wife on November 9 that the teenagers had used his parliamentary device as a wifi hotspot.

However, on November 13, when asked directly if there was "any personal use" of the device during the family holiday, he told reporters: "No”

It also emerged that he met with parliamentary authorities, including Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone during the period and did not tell them his boys were responsible for racking up the charges.

In his statement, Mr Whitfield said "the standards of conduct expected from Members of the Scottish Parliament" had not been met by Mr Matheson. 

Month-long bans have been handed out before. The Scottish Socialist Party's MSPs in 2005 were penalised for disrupting chamber business by protesting about the G8 summit.Ex-SNP minister Mark McDonald was also suspended for a month for twice breaking the MSPs code of conduct.

Speaking to journalists after First Minister’s Questions, Mr Matheson said he would not resign.

“I think it’s pretty clear that the process has become highly politicised, which has compromised the process and the fairness of the process," he said.

“I also think the sanctions they’ve imposed are excessive and they are unfair.”

Mr Matheson said it is now for Parliament to decide on the next steps, and he vowed to “abide” by whatever decision it takes.