Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to refer herself for investigation over alleged breaches of the ministerial code relating to a meeting with businessman Jim McColl in 2017.
The First Minister met with McColl, who was at that time the owner of the Ferguson Marine shipyard, in May of that year.
It has now been alleged by the Scottish Conservatives that Sturgeon broke the ministerial code by failing to record the meeting, as well as not having a civil servant present for the talks.
The Scottish Government has rejected the claims by the party, stating that a special adviser was present.
A spokesperson for the Government also said that the meeting was recorded in the official record of ministerial engagements that were published.
Sturgeon gave evidence to Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee in November as MSPs investigate the awarding of the contract to Ferguson Marine – with two ferries to be build at the yard significantly overbudget and overdue.
Appearing before MSPs on the committee, the SNP leader “categorically” denied suggestions that there was anything “untoward” in the procurement process.
However, McColl has since claimed that public money was “squandered on a reckless and foolish scale”, as the yard was nationalised in 2019.
Scottish Conservative MSP Craig Hoy, who is a member of the Public Audit Committee, has written to the First Minister suggesting that the answers she gave to the committee breached paragraphs 4.22 and 4.23 of the ministerial code.
These relate to meetings between ministers and external organisations or individuals where official business is discussed without an official present.
In a letter, Hoy told the SNP leader he believes she should refer herself to the Independent Adviser to the First Minister for a further investigation.
“Nicola Sturgeon was quick to deny these claims when responding to my letter following the committee evidence session last month,” he said.
“But her latest correspondence to the committee fails to deliver any evidence of the required note or minute. Nor does she explain why only a special adviser was present.
“These appear to represent clear breaches of the ministerial code.”
Hoy suggested that Sturgeon had “forgotten” the distinction between special advisers and civil service officials.
“The email evidence which the First Minister presents as the supposed minute of a meeting with Jim McColl is nothing of the sort because it reveals very little about what was actually discussed,” he said.
“This is made more worrying by the fact that Mr McColl has given a very different account of the discussion.
“Nicola Sturgeon also appears to have forgotten the clear distinction between special advisers and civil service officials.
“It’s clear that no officials were present at this meeting and no facts were passed on afterwards.
“Under the code, this must happen if no official is in attendance when government business is being discussed.
“Because of these two breaches, I have written to Nicola Sturgeon urging her to refer herself to the independent advisers of the code immediately.”
The Scottish Conservative MSP insisted that the public “deserves to know the truth” as he called for a public inquiry into the ferries scandal.
Hoy continued: “Her evasiveness under questioning from the committee last month set alarm bells ringing and the lack of detail in her subsequent correspondence adds to the suspicion that she has something to hide.
“The public deserves to know the truth. That’s why, in addition to referring herself, Nicola Sturgeon must agree to a full, independent public inquiry into the whole ferries scandal.”
A Scottish Government said that the meeting was arranged through the civil service and that officials were made aware of the details.
“The meeting was recorded in the official record of ministerial engagements published by the government,” they said.
“An official – a special adviser – was present and a brief note of the outcome recorded. To claim otherwise is factually wrong.
“In evidence to the committee, the First Minister gave a commitment to see whether information relating to actions resulting from the meeting could be made available. This has been done.”