Nicola Sturgeon has “covered up mistakes” over the CalMac ferries fiasco, according to Douglas Ross.
The accusation was levelled at the First Minister by the Scottish Conservative leader at Holyrood on Thursday.
Ross pressed the SNP leader over the location of a missing document – the formal record of the decision to proceed with the ultimately disastrous contract award.
However, Sturgeon hit back and insisted that the information contained in the document would have been clear in “all of the surrounding documentation”.
It comes after Audit Scotland in a report set out a ‘multitude of failings’ in the delivery of two new ferries for Scotland’s island routes.
Speaking at the Scottish Parliament, Ross said: “The Auditor General last week criticised the SNP for failing to record the crucial decision to go ahead with ferry contracts that have so far cost the taxpayer a quarter of a billion pounds.
“In response, a Scottish Government spokesperson said, ‘a thorough search has been conducted and the paperwork cannot be located’.
“That is laughable. A few weeks ago, the First Minister was telling us a big boy did it and ran away, not the dogs eaten all her homework.
“First Minister, these excuses would not cut in a primary school classroom, so do you really expect anyone to believe this?
“And will you tell us where has that crucial document gone?”
The First Minister said that documents regarding the decisions had been made available by the Government.
She responded: “Well, first of all, there are actually more than 200 documents, amounting to more than 1500 pages relating to these decisions already in the public domain.
“They were published by the Scottish Government and they have been there for quite some time for anyone to read and scrutinise.
“There is one piece of documentation that is not there which is the formal record of the decision to proceed with the final contract award.
“That is absolutely a key decision, but there are two further points that I think it is important to make.
“Firstly, there is no evidence that this has been withheld, in fact, let me quote the Auditor General at the committee last week, ‘our judgement is not that evidence has been withheld from us during the course of our audit work, but rather that an important piece of documentary evidence was not prepared in relation to the judgement ministers arrived at.
“Secondly, what is missing is a note confirming that ministers have considered the issues and the risks and decided to proceed.
“However, that is nevertheless clear in all of the surrounding documentation.”
She added: “There is one link in the chain that is missing but you can still very clearly follow the chain of the events.”
Ross suggested that it appeared to be an “almighty cover up”.
He said: “At the time, Nicola Sturgeon said this was one of the achievements we are most proud of.
“Now we are expected to believe that there is not a shred of evidence about the final, crucial decision.
“They were so proud of it, they didn’t want anyone to know about it.
“First Minister, given your pride, that should have been hanging on your wall.
“And maybe that’s it, maybe that’s where the document is, hanging up on Nicola Sturgeon’s wall in Bute House.”
Ross added: “The excuse we’ve just heard from the First Minister is, ‘there are hundreds of documents available’.
“But wow, not the one we need, not the one the Auditor General was looking at, the vital document, it has vanished into thin air.
“So can the First Minister say with a straight face that this does not look like an almighty cover up?
“And I’ll ask again because she didn’t answer, where has that document gone?”
The First Minister defended the decision to take action to save jobs at the troubled shipyard.
“That document would have been an email or a note that would have said the minister is content on the basis of the reasons set out,” she said.
“Can I say first of all, it was and is an achievement to have saved almost 400 jobs, 400 people as we speak working in Ferguson’s Shipyard right now earning a wage, supporting their families.
“I know jobs don’t matter that much to the Conservatives but they matter to this government and they always will.”
Ross criticised the First Minister and added that she had “botched” the issue.
He said: “This is Nicola Sturgeon who has more ministers than ever before, more special advisers than ever before, more communications staff than ever before.
“And none of them can find the vital link, as she has called it, none of them can find the vital link that is missing.
“The First Minister claims to be a master of detail, right up until the point that the Government makes a mistake, then her memory’s like a sieve.
“Every time the going gets tough, we hear she can’t recall, she doesn’t know, she’s not sure.
“We’re supposed to believe a quarter of a billion pound decision was either never written down, has vanished, or has been illegally destroyed.
“The First Minister has botched this and covered up mistakes.”