Scottish Official Quits Amid Reports That He Messaged Teen Hundreds of Times


LONDON — The finance secretary of Scotland resigned abruptly, hours after British news outlets revealed that he had sent suggestive messages to a 16-year-old boy on social media, the Scottish government confirmed on Thursday.

The finance secretary, Derek Mackay, 42, is reported to have sent the boy hundreds of messages, beginning last August and continuing into this month, according to The Scottish Sun. Those messages included telling the boy he was “really cute” and inviting him to attend a rugby match with him.

Mr. Mackay, who was seen as a rising star in the Scottish National Party, said in a statement that he had tendered his resignation to the head of the Scottish government, Nicola Sturgeon, late Wednesday and apologized “unreservedly” to the boy and his family.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” he said. “I have behaved foolishly, and I am truly sorry.”

Ms. Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, said Thursday morning that she had accepted Mr. Mackay’s resignation as finance secretary, adding that he had been suspended from the party, pending an investigation.

“Derek has made a significant contribution to government, however he recognizes that his behavior has failed to meet the standards required,” she said in a statement.

Speaking on Thursday afternoon in Parliament, Ms. Sturgeon said Mr. Mackay remaining in the government was “not an option.” There was a need for due process, she told her fellow lawmakers, “But clearly, these are very serious matters.”

The allegations against Mr. Mackay means the government must now deal with two high-profile scandals at once. Alex Salmond, the country’s former first minister, who for years led a campaign for Scottish independence, was charged last year with two counts of attempted rape and several counts of sexual assault, and his trial is set to begin in March.

Mr. Mackay had been expected to deliver the details of Scotland’s annual budget on Thursday. Instead, Kate Forbes, the public finance minister, will lay out the government’s spending agenda, Ms. Sturgeon said.

The Scottish Sun first published an article on Wednesday citing the boy’s mother and detailing numerous messages reportedly sent by Mr. Mackay to the boy on Facebook, on Instagram and by text message. Mr. Mackay, a father of two, came out as gay when he left his wife in 2013.

After a series of messages, Mr. Mackay asked the boy’s age, to which he confirmed that he was just 16. The boy told the politician “not to try anything.”

Mr. Mackay also asked the boy, “And our chats are between us?” and followed up by with “Cool, to be honest I think you are really cute.”

The transcripts published by The Scottish Sun show how Mr. Mackay continued to message the teenager repeatedly over the course of months on a number of platforms.

“I will stop messaging you if it’s bothering you sorry,” Mr. Mackay wrote at one point in the conversation on Facebook after sending several messages to the boy that went unanswered.

The reaction to the report on Mr. Mackay’s messages was swift.

Jackson Carlaw, the interim leader of the opposition Scottish Conservative party, called Mr. Mackay’s actions a “colossal lapse of judgment” in an interview with Sky News. Mr. Carlaw also noted that the there were “huge questions” to be answered by the Scottish National Party.

“Parliament has a responsibility to set the tone and protect the reputation of politics in Scotland,” Mr. Carlaw later told The Scotsman newspaper.

Speaking in Parliament on Thursday, Mr. Carlaw asked whether the government had been in contact with the boy’s family to offer support, but Ms. Sturgeon said she was unaware of his identity.

“I do not condone, in any way, shape or form, conduct of this nature,” she said, and added that if the family wanted to speak with her she “would be happy to do that.”

While Mr. Mackay has stepped down from his government position and been suspended from his party, he has not yet been removed from Parliament, although some lawmakers said that the allegations against him merited his expulsion.

Richard Leonard, a Labour member of the Scottish Parliament, speaking during first minister’s questions on Thursday, called Mr. Mackay’s actions “nothing short of predatory.”

“This is serious, and whilst his suspension from the S.N.P. is welcome, he should go as a member of this Parliament,” he said.

The scandal comes at a pivotal time for the Scottish National Party, which is pushing for another referendum on independence after Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.

The Scottish Parliament voted last month in favor of holding another referendum on independence, but a binding plebiscite cannot take place without permission from the British government.

Source : Nytimes