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Shamed MSP Derek Mackay is no-show at ferries fiasco inquiry as Nicola Sturgeon faces calls to give evidence in his place

© John DevlinDerek Mackay at the Ferguson shipyard in August last year
Derek Mackay at the Ferguson shipyard in August last year

Pressure is growing on the First Minister to give evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the £230m ferry fiasco – after former finance minister Derek Mackay’s scheduled appearance was cancelled.

Opposition MSPs say if Mr Mackay does not appear then his former boss, Nicola Sturgeon, must. He stepped down from Ms Sturgeon’s cabinet last month hours after it was revealed he had sent hundreds of text messages to a 16-year-old boy.

MSPs wanted Mr Mackay to appear before the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee inquiry, saying his evidence about the ferries was crucial.

Mr Mackay was ­scheduled to give evidence on March 26 – but that was cancelled last week, we can reveal.

Now MSPs say if Mr Mackay does not give evidence, Ms Sturgeon must answer the questions he would have faced.

The First Minister and her predecessor, Alex Salmond, both made high-profile visits to the Ferguson Marine yard after it was bought by independence-supporting tycoon Jim McColl and won the ferry contracts that secured jobs.

However, as finance minister, Mr Mackay nationalised the shipyard last year amid acrimony between the yard and Caledonian Maritime Assets, who commissioned the ships. They are likely to be more than £130m over budget and three years late.

Shadow transport minister Dean Lockhart, who is on the investigating committee, said: “It is essential Nicola Sturgeon, as his (Mr Mackay’s) boss and as someone involved in all the key decisions relating to Ferguson Marine, appears before the committee to explain her government’s involvement, respond to the allegations of mismanagement and negligence and address all the unanswered questions.”

Committee member Colin Smyth, who is Labour’s transport spokesman, said: “I’ve made it clear the First Minister should give evidence because government did not intervene at an earlier stage to resolve the issue and the only people who can answer questions as to why are the ministers who were there at the time. My view is the committee should also write to Derek Mackay and ask him to give evidence.”

Lib Dem transport spokesman and committee member Mike Rumbles also said Mr Mackay should still give evidence.

“Derek Mackay undoubtedly has information the committee would find helpful to its inquiry,” he said. “I have no doubt members will wish to call him to give evidence in due course.”

The committee met in private on Wednesday to discuss which members of the government should give evidence. Mr Salmond previously said he would attend the inquiry. But there is uncertainty as to when this might be as he goes on trial next week for a series of alleged sex offences, which he denies.

The Scottish Parliament said: “In any inquiry, evidence regarding government policy and decisions is usually given to committees by the incumbent cabinet secretary or minister, and it is on that basis the committee has agreed to issue an invitation to the Scottish Government.”

The Scottish Government said: “While the First Minister has not been asked to attend committee, ministers regularly accept formal requests to give evidence. It is for parliamentary committee clerks to issue all invitations.”

Disgraced Mackay rejected £50m offer

Documents about the ferry fiasco suggest former finance secretary Derek Mackay rejected an offer to save the Scottish Government £50 million of taxpayers’ money.

Tycoon Jim McColl offered a share of the ownership in Ferguson shipyard to the government, which he said would “halve the pain” of the increase in the cost of building two ferries for CalMac. Ministers took the shipyard into public ownership after the bill for building the ferries rose to double the original £97m contract price. But in emails submitted to Holyrood’s rural economy committee, Mr McColl warned that if the shipyard was nationalised the Scottish Government would have to bear the full cost of the completing the ferries.

He instead proposed a share in the Ferguson shipyard, which would result in “halving the cost to the Scottish Government, a saving of around £55m”.

Mr Mackay said that the proposed deal could break European rules on procurement and state aid, but Mr McColl said he had received legal advice there were no legal risks.

Mr McColl rescued the shipyard from closure days before the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence in a deal brokered by Alex Salmond.