An Aberdeen politician who “exploited his position of power” was today facing calls to quit from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and former SNP allies.
Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald resigned from the SNP after accepting the findings of an independent investigation ordered by the party, which concluded he had sent inappropriate and unwanted text and social media messages to two women.
Along with Ms Sturgeon, SNP MP Kirsty Blackman and former councillor John West today said they want him to step down and trigger a by-election.
The married father, who stepped down as Childcare and Early Years Minister in November, also accepted he displayed persistent behaviour over an extended period of time towards the women and caused them distress.
John West, who joined Aberdeen City Council along with Mr McDonald as part of an intake of SNP councillors a decade ago, hit out at his former ally on social media.
He said: “Mark should resign. Like almost all politicians (myself included), Mark McDonald was never elected for his good looks and winning personality. Conduct unworthy of @theSNP is clearly beneath MSPs too. He’ll keep taking the £££s though, because he’s a selfish, arrogant buffoon”.
Mr West expressed his scepticism that Mr McDonald would resign as an MSP triggering a by-election.
“There will not be a by-election. “Mark is self-absorbed. His statement says he is being ‘taught empathy’.
“He already went through (the) press saying it’s all a misunderstanding. He quit the SNP pre-emptively, to retain some control of the narrative. This is not a human being who wants to atone.”
Mr McDonald declined to comment on Mr West’s tweets.
Mrs Blackman said: “An independent investigation concluded, unequivocally, that Mark McDonald’s behaviour was not appropriate. He has accepted that conclusion and taken the decision to resign.
“Mark McDonald was elected as an SNP MSP.
“As he has now resigned from the SNP he should also resign his parliamentary seat. His constituents should have the chance to make an informed choice about who will represent them at Holyrood.”
The investigators, who spoke to 18 people during their inquiry, also concluded a third woman’s allegation Mr McDonald made inappropriate physical contact at a social event could not be established, so investigators could not reach a definitive conclusion.
At a press conference in Dyce yesterday, Mr McDonald broke more than three months of silence over the controversy, which began when the allegations surfaced in November. In that time, he has not turned up to Holyrood but has continued to do constituency work.
Mr McDonald said: “The findings, which I cannot disclose other than in very general terms, confirm that I have accepted that my behaviour towards two individuals fell below the level of professionalism they were entitled to expect of me, whether in a professional or social context.
“While at no stage was my behaviour in any way physically abusive and, while it was certainly not my intention to cause any upset, discomfort or offence to those concerned, it is clear through the concerns highlighted in the report that I have done so. That is something which I deeply regret. I would like to take the opportunity here and now to offer a public and unreserved apology to those individuals for the hurt and offence that I have caused them.”
In response, Nicola Sturgeon said: “The SNP, of course, cannot force Mark McDonald to stand down as an MSP, so it is a matter for him.
“My view is clear: He was elected as an SNP MSP, and if his behaviour is such that he himself considers that he cannot continue as an SNP MSP, then it would be appropriate to give his constituents the opportunity to elect a new MSP.”
Mr McDonald said he intends to keep representing the Aberdeen Donside constituency he was elected to in 2013. At the press conference, Mr McDonald – who refused to answer any questions from journalists – said: “I have further advised the parliamentary authorities that I will return to Holyrood next week to sit as an independent MSP and have asked them to make the necessary arrangements to allow this to happen.
“Before then, I will be taking a few days to spend time with my family, for whose love and support I am grateful each and every day.
“I will resume my parliamentary duties next week, taking forward the priorities and speaking for the people of Aberdeen Donside.”
Mr McDonald added that a behaviour coach had helped him understand how aspects of his behaviour might be seen by others and as a clear willingness to change.
A SNP spokesman said: “The findings of the independent investigation were shared with Mark McDonald on Monday, and the SNP group was due to consider disciplinary action, based on those findings. Investigators concluded Mr McDonald had been deliberate in his actions, and should have been aware that it was not appropriate for an individual in his position to be behaving in such a manner.”
Maureen Watt, SNP MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, said: “I’m glad the complaints raised have been taken seriously, thoroughly investigated and, as a result, Mark has made his own decision to resign from the party.”
Councillor Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s group leader at Aberdeen City Council, said: “I fully endorse the First Minister’s comments.”
Labour’s parliamentary business manager Rhoda Grant MSP said: “Mark McDonald decided his conduct was not fit for a minister or an SNP MSP – but somehow it is acceptable for an MSP without party affiliation. People in Aberdeen Donside will rightly question that. It looks like Mark McDonald has put the reputation of the SNP before what is best for his constituents.”
Aberdeenshire West Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett said: “He is clearly prioritising the reputation of the SNP over that of Holyrood, and it’s simply not good enough.”
North-east Conservative MSP Liam Kerr said: “The big question remaining is why he feels he can continue to represent the Aberdeen Donside area but cannot continue to represent the SNP.”
Another North-east Conservative MSP, Tom Mason, said: “This whole episode has been very poorly handled by the SNP.
“It has taken several months to get to this point, and the outcome is far from satisfactory.”
Conservative MSP Peter Chapman said: “It is very difficult for people in Aberdeen Donside to know what to think about this when so few details have been made public.”
A Scottish Liberal Democrats spokesman said the party would not comment until it sees detail of the investigation.