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John Swinney has derailed the SNP's election campaign over the embarrassed Michael Matheson

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John Swinney has derailed the SNP's election campaign with his inexplicable behaviour towards the discredited Michael Matheson.

The £11,000 data roaming scandal has left its mark on the doorstep and the former Health Secretary is political asbestos.

It was always likely that a strict Holyrood ban would be passed, but Swinney's instinct told him he had to save Matheson by discrediting the committee behind the ban.

It was the First Minister, not his opponents in Holyrood, who made Matheson a general election issue.

Even Swinney's close allies believe he messed up.

“John is the right man for the job as Secretary of State, but I have no idea what he did there,” said one supporter.

The most plausible explanation is his desire for unity within his SNP group in Holyrood.

Swinney leads a minority government, but expects that the 63 votes he can count on will generally be enough to prevail against opposition from the left and the right.

The same consideration led him to appoint the socially conservative Kate Forbes as his Deputy First Minister.

The scars on his back from his first time as leader of the SNP, when a divided group brought him down, run deep.

But his support for Matheson sparked a backlash from his own colleagues and dealt a gift to Labour and the Conservatives.

Regular players know they would have been fired for Matheson's behavior, and Swinney's cover-up seems biased and shady.

His party's pathetic decision to abstain on the Matheson sanction reeked of weakness.

Election campaigns are short and every day is a battle to get involved in the debate and set the direction.

The SNP is trailing Labour in the polls and Swinney's intervention has wasted valuable days that he does not want to waste.

Swinney has stabilized the government and has largely demonstrated good judgement since succeeding Humza Yousaf.

But getting involved in the Matheson controversy was a terrible move that breathed new life into an expenses scandal.

A poor election result for the SNP on July 4 could turn into a nightmare.

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