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Illegal or merely immoral? Scotland's rising political star quits over messages to teenager

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FILE PHOTO: October 09, 2018 Derek Mackay, then Scotland's Minister for Finance and the Constitution and SNP MSP
FILE PHOTO: October 09, 2018 Derek Mackay, then Scotland's Minister for Finance and the Constitution and SNP MSP   -  
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Andy Buchanan / AFP
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Scotland's finance minister Derek Mackay has resigned after a newspaper reported that he sent hundreds of messages to a 16-year-old boy on social media.

Mackay quit Thursday, hours before he was due to deliver his annual budget, saying he had "behaved foolishly."

His choice of words generated an angry response on social media, with many users suggesting such actions should be regarded not merely as foolhardy but illegal.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that Mackay’s behaviour “failed to meet the standards required.”

It is unclear, however, whether she was referring to moral or legal standards.

The Scottish Sun newspaper broke the story which reported that 42-year-old Mackay sent the teen more than 270 messages on Facebook and Instagram, telling the boy he was ''cute'' and offering to take him to a rugby match and to dinner.

A Police Scotland spokesperson told Euronews: "We have not received any complaint of criminality, however, we are currently assessing available information from media reporting and would encourage anyone with information to please come forward."

Age of consent

Under Scotland's laws, the age of consent for sex is 16 so in this regard, Mackay has not broken the law.

However, for "persons in a position of trust," sex with a person under 18 can be punished by up to a life in prison, according to Scotland's national youth information service.

The question, therefore, is whether Mackay's ministerial post qualified him as a person in a position of trust.

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said on Twitter that Mackay's behaviour could constitute the "grooming" of a young individual.

British child protection expert Jonathan Rallings told Euronews that whether or not Mackay's behaviour would "constitute grooming is a matter for lawyers to debate."

"In terms of the wider context though nobody can surely be allowed to brush an incident of this sort aside just as having 'behaved foolishly,'" he added.

"Mackay must have been aware of the power imbalance between himself as a senior politician and a young teenager. Given the unsolicited nature of the contact, the comments about the boy's personal appearance, and the suggestions of meeting up in person Mr Mackay surely needs to answer exactly what his motivations were in contacting this child in the first place," Rallings continued.

"As we better understand the nature of grooming and the way that social media can facilitate contact between adults and young people who are strangers to each other this case needs to serve as a warning to all parents to keep a very close eye on their children's online habits and ensure that they feel safe to talk about potential incidents of concern just as this brave young man and his family have done in this case," he said.

Political impact

Mackay was a rising star in the Scottish National Party, which runs Scotland's devolved administration in Edinburgh.

He had been seen as a potential successor to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP, which advocates independence from the United Kingdom for the nation of 5.5 million.

Speaking in parliament on Thursday, Sturgeon confirmed Mackay had been suspended by the party while further investigations are carried out.

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