Finance Minister Derek Mackay resigns

Derek Mackay MSP (Photo: Scottish Business Insider)
Finance Secretary Derek Mackay has today resigned from his ministerial role - on the very day he was due to deliver the budget statement to Parliament.

Mr Mackay's decision comes after the Scottish Sun published a series of text messages he sent to a 16-year old boy.

Mr Mackay admitted that he had been "foolish" and took responsibility for his actions.

Once the press got hold of the messages, there was only one likely outcome. Two things are very clear to me: a) Derek Mackay has done nothing illegal but has behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally, and b) The Sun never misses an opportunity to sensationally equate homosexuality with a supposed risk to children. I also suspect The Sun's timing is far from accidental.

Mr Mackay has done absolutely the right thing in resigning. Unfortunately, as one of the more personable and capable SNP ministers, this "foolishness" looks to have ended the political career of someone who seemed destined to even better things - including, potentially, the leadership.

Politics is a merciless business and Mr Mackay knew this perfectly well. It is therefore more surprising that he would have sent these messages, knowing of the potential damage they could do to himself and his party.

In 2011, I was Mr Mackay's Lib Dem opponent in the Scottish parliamentary elections. What struck me about him on a personal level was his friendliness, his outgoing nature and his supreme confidence. Perhaps it was that confidence that finally brought him down: a confidence that was as misplaced as it was remarkable.

I will not crow or gloat about this. I may be a Liberal Democrat but I rated Derek Mackay highly. His interactions with myself have always been friendly and respectful, and I cannot rejoice at a promising political career being destroyed so completely. But similarly I cannot defend the text messages, and I can only agree with Mr Mackay's own assessment of his conduct.

More worrying, of course, is the obsession of certain sections of the media in sensationalising such stories and using them to claim some kind of connection between same-sex attraction and child abuse. Their agenda is the same as it always has been. Sadly, Derek Mackay's unprofessionalism and impropriety has not only led to his political downfall, but to particular media outlets relishing the opportunity to gleefully play their "homosexuality is dangerous" card, which will have obvious effects on the wider LGBT+ community. I am loathe to suggest that LGBT+ politicians should be held to standards others aren't, but the inescapable fact remains when they act inappropriately it creates responses with a potential to damage LGBT+ communities.

The Sun and the Daily Express branded the finance minister "creepy"; the Daily Mail focused on the "outraged" mother, who insisted the matter should be referred to the police (in spite of there being nothing of a potential criminal nature within the exchange).  Their emphasis on Mr Mackay's sexual orientation (The Sun and The Daily Express were keen to highlight he was "openly gay"), rather than on the issue of inappropriately texting a minor, is as unhelpful as it is intentional. Their motivation is far more contemptible than any wrongs committed by Mr Mackay.

It's not the way I would have wanted to see Derek Mackay leaving politics. I am shocked by the news, but also quite disappointed: disappointed in the carelessness and unprofessionalism from a minister I would have expected to be above reproach, and disappointed by the usual media angles perpetuating the age-old narratives. We deserved better from all of them.