Derek Mackay must give evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the £230 million ferry fiasco despite resigning in disgrace, MSPs insist.
Members of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee are also demanding that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, her predecessor Alex Salmond and former Transport Minister Humza Yousaf appear before them.
They say they are all key to a series of unanswered questions about the scandal.
We revealed last week how the rusting hulks of the unfinished ferries were deteriorating at a Clyde shipyard while experts warned the total costs could top £300m and urged ministers to scrap the project.
Mr Mackay announced he was resigning as Scottish finance secretary with immediate effect on Thursday, the day he was to deliver his Budget speech. He was forced to stand down after sending hundreds of messages to a 16-year-old boy on social media, telling him he was cute and trying to arrange a meeting.
Since then, the MSP, who was suspended by the SNP pending an inquiry, has not been seen in public as critics urge him to stand down from parliament.
He was due to answer questions about the ferries at the committee on March 26 but committee member Colin Smyth, a Labour MSP, said: “Derek Mackay must give evidence to the committee. He is crucial.
“He was inexorably linked with many of the decisions that led us to where we are today.
“The committee would not be able to do its job without hearing from the former finance secretary. The fact he is not in the job any more doesn’t change this.”
The shocking condition of Scotland’s delayed £230m superferries were revealed in last week’s Sunday Post.
Our photographs showed the ferries streaked with rust, already needing restoration and repairs, and with no sign of work under way at a Clyde shipyard.
The Glen Sannox and her sister ship – Vessel 802 – should have by now been serving communities around Scotland.
Instead, they are years from completion as the projected £100m costs double – and experts warn could even triple before the ships are completed.
Jamie Greene MSP has written to the Scottish Parliament asking that Sturgeon, Yousaf and Salmond be called to appear as witnesses as part of the inquiry into the construction and procurement of the ferry vessels.
Last night, he also called for Derek Mackay to be added to the list of witnesses.
He said: “Irrespective of this week’s revelations, Derek Mackay played a central role. It therefore seems appropriate he appears before the committee to give evidence.
“With this important inquiry under way the revelations keep coming as the witnesses come through the doors of Holyrood, no least the news that the First Minister herself has been directly involved in this fiasco since day one.
“One independent witness said that at the heart of this bungled ferry contract lies either vested interest, incompetence or corruption.
“It’s about time the committee and the general public heard the truth from those who called the shots, wrote the cheques and covered up the mess.”
He added: “If these witnesses have nothing to fear then surely they will be glad of the opportunity to enlighten the parliament – anything less will be nothing short of a whitewash.”
Former Ferguson Marine boss Jim McColl on Wednesday accused Mackay of defaming his company and its management of the shipyard in parliament.
He said it was “grossly misleading” and “appalling” that Mackay had handed out a highly critical report to MSPs which, McColl said, was “nonsense”. He also claimed Nicola Sturgeon had publicly announced his company was the preferred bidder for the contract before the terms had been fully agreed.
McColl said: “Before we agreed the negotiation, the First Minister had announced we had been selected as preferred bidders and the price was £97m.”
If necessary, Mackay could be compelled to give evidence at the ferry inquiry even if he relinquished his role as an MSP. He has been suspended from the SNP following his resignation.
Mr Smyth is also a member of the committee heading the inquiry into the construction of ferries at Ferguson’s. He has written to the Scottish Parliament asking for senior politicians past and present – including Mackay – to be called as witnesses.
The original £97m contract was for the construction of two new ferries by 2018, but a government report published in December said another £110m must be spent and both ships won’t be on the seas until 2022. That is on top of £45m of government loans to Ferguson’s, which were written off when the company went bust and was nationalised last year.
Mr Smyth said: “The more evidence we hear the more explosive this ferries fiasco becomes and we have only got started. There are huge questions to be asked of current and former government ministers about the decisions they made and what actions they took, and that includes the First Minister.
“Whether it is claims over announcements being made about the award of the contract before the deal was sealed or the concerns about the collapse in the relationship between the yard and government agencies being raised with ministers time after time, it is vital that those at the top of government respond to the committee.
“These are serious accusations, so it is only fair we get an explanation. If we are serious about getting to the bottom of what has caused this scandal then no-one should be exempt from giving evidence to the parliamentary inquiry.
“We cannot lose sight of the fact this shambles has left the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds out of pocket and communities without the lifeline ferries they desperately need.”
When asked if he would appear at the inquiry if required, former first minister Alex Salmond last night said: “Of course I would be happy to assist the parliamentary committee in any way I can if asked to give evidence.”
The Scottish Government said: “We are preparing a detailed response to claims made by Jim McColl at this week’s committee. Ministers regularly accept formal requests from committees to give evidence and the Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands has already agreed to do so.”
Minister messaged boy during vital talks
Disgraced ex-minister Derek Mackay was contacting a 16-year-old boy on social media even as he faced the biggest challenge of his ministerial career.
As the Scottish Government was forced to step in to save Ferguson Marine after it fell into administration in August, Mackay was busy making contact with the schoolboy.
On August 9, Mackay posted on Facebook: “The news that Ferguson Marine are to appoint administrators will be concerning for the workforce. I am committed to the delivery of the vessels, securing the jobs and the future of the yard.”
However, just the day before Mackay was making contact with the boy, texting him “Hey” on Facebook Messenger, prompting the same reply.
On August 12, Mackay posted again about Ferguson Marine on Facebook. The same day, he sent two “waves” to the boy in the space of a minute at 11.28pm.
On August 16, Mackay posted a picture of himself at Ferguson Marine, with the caption: “The Scottish Government has reached an agreement to take the Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow into public control.”
However, the following morning, he was again messaging the boy “Hey”.
MSP Jamie Green said the timing of the messages, made during important negotiations over the future of the shipyard, was concerning. He said: “He clearly had his eye off the ball.”