The First Minister has come under more pressure over her involvement in the management of a contract for two CalMac ferries that are £150 million over budget and incomplete.
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused by former Ferguson Marine owner Jim McColl of rushing through the order of the vessels in 2015 without proper safeguards, to maximise publicity ahead of her first party conference as leader.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, he said the contracts were given “for political purposes” and “everything was about the optics and timing the announcements for political gain”.
Mr McColl, a former economic adviser to the Scottish Government, told the paper that the decision to overrule CMAL’s (Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd) advice “was made by the First Minister along with Derek Mackay”.
An Audit Scotland report, which set out a “a multitude of failings” in the delivery, said the ferries, which were due to be completed in 2018, will not enter service until 2023 at the earliest at a cost of at least £240 million – two and a half times the original price tag.
Earlier, calls were made for Dereck Mackay, who was transport minister at the time, to also give evidence over his decision to award the contract for the two ferries.
Mr Mackay, who quit the Scottish Government more than two years ago, decided to contract the work to the Clyde yard, despite concerns being raised.
At First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross asked Ms Sturgeon which of her ministers gave the go-ahead for the contract, to which she replied: “It is a matter of public record – that was Derek Mackay.
“But of course this is a Government that operates by collective responsibility. Ultimately, as with any decision, whether I am personally involved with them or not, responsibility stops with me.”
The Scottish Conservatives have called on Ms Sturgeon to “immediately” answer Mr McColl’s accusations before the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.
“It’s the least the Scottish public deserve when there are credible claims that £250 million of taxpayers’ money has been wasted for political purposes,” Mr Ross said.
“It’s becoming clear why Audit Scotland couldn’t find any evidence to support the Government’s decision to agree this contract against expert advice.
“The decision looks to have been made for political gain, not for the benefit of taxpayers or the island communities who desperately need these ferries.
“From what Mr McColl has said, there are serious questions for the First Minister to answer.
“On Thursday, she tried to say this scandal was all Derek Mackay’s fault but there is more and more evidence that she may have misled Parliament by making that claim.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat economy spokesperson Willie Rennie said: “The SNP were prepared to gamble with taxpayers’ money and the livelihoods of islanders for the sake of a soundbite at a party conference.
“This is probably the most expensive soundbite in the history of Scottish Party Conferences.
“The SNP just can’t be trusted with public funds. We need an immediate public inquiry.”
In response to Mr McColl’s claims, Scottish health secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The First Minister has said herself that the buck stops with her.
“This Government takes collective responsibility and nobody wants to see ferries overrun both in terms of timescale and cost. Do not forget if the Government did not take the action we took then hundreds of jobs would have been lost.
“We take collective decisions and nobody is shying away from that.
“This is not about blaming one individual who’s no longer in government, the Government stands up to its responsibility and of course we’re here to answer those questions as we have done in the past.”