The Sad Fall of Derek Mackay

“On a legal basis, Derek Mackay should not only lose his government role but also be dismissed as an MSP.”

This article appeared in the print edition of the Evening Telegraph: 10/02/2020 Available:  [Accessed: 2020, Feb 11]

I was in the Scottish Parliament last Thursday morning, less than an hour after the resignation of the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work, Derek Mackay. There was an unusually subdued atmosphere in the building. I had read the unsettling transcript of messages exchanged between the finance minister and a 16 year old boy, revealing repeated attempts to meet and seeking reassurance regarding the privacy of their dialogue before Mackay described the young man as “really cute”.

It could not have come at a worse time for Derek Mackay. The story emerged on the day of the budget, which is the perfect showcase for his credentials as a future SNP leader and First Minister. The next SNP hurdle is the Alex Salmond case, who faces various charges including attempted rape. Last Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon confirmed accepting Mackay’s resignation and announced his suspension pending further investigation stating his conduct “fell far short of what is expected of a minister.”

A few years ago, I presided over a very similar situation. A charity I led received a complaint from a guidance teacher about a married man and father of two children in his forties who, in this case, had been contacting a 17 year old girl with a similar level of persistence. Like Derek Mackay, the individual was a charismatic, handsome, likeable and successful individual who sought to build a rapport around sport, in this instance, hockey. The dialogue we observed, however, exhibited predatory behaviour.

Child exploitation expert Dr Rachel O’Connell identifies six stages of grooming in what she describes as “cybersexploitation”. In her 2003 research, she refers to these as friendship-forming, relationship-forming, risk assessment, the exclusivity stage, sexual stage and, finally, the concluding stage of either damage limitation or the ‘hit and run’ tactic. I and my colleagues used these as a reference and in this instance, as with Derek Mackay, we are looking at a crossover between stages three and four.

The unusual quirk of our law is that in relation to grooming, a child is viewed as such until the age of 18. Therefore, having led the investigation, we came to the conclusion that this was clear gross misconduct that merited dismissal and we had no option but to recommend to our charitable partner that they carry out a disciplinary process and dismiss. On a legal basis, therefore, it is my conclusion that Derek Mackay should not only lose his role in government, but that he should be dismissed as an MSP.

While that is my legal assessment, from a humanitarian perspective, I feel deeply sorry for the young man, his family, the family of Derek Mackay and his partner. And this will be an unpopular opinion for which I am inevitably derided, especially as further allegations now emerge, but I do hope Derek Mackay himself receives the support he requires and emerges from this as a better person in the future.