Derek Mackay pledges to ‘set the record straight’ as Holyrood ferry fiasco inquest

FORMER Finance Secretary Derek Mackay told MSPs he was ready to share details of his role in the Ferguson Marine ferry fiasco.

The disgraced ex-minister – who resigned in 2020 following a teenage texting scandal – broke his two-year silence to tell The Sunday Times he was ‘willing to cooperate with a parliamentary committee and to do my best to answer any questions they may have.”

Mr Mackay has been accused by Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon of signing the £97million deal to build two ships, despite being warned it posed ‘significant risks’ for the taxpayers because it lacked the usual financial guarantees, including a money-back guarantee from builders.

The ships are now five years behind schedule and costs have more than doubled from £97m to at least £240m.

A recent report by Audit Scotland said it was “unclear what discussions took place between Scottish Ministers and Transport Scotland over the award of the contract.

“There is no documented evidence to confirm why Scottish Ministers were prepared to accept the risks of awarding the contract to FMEL, despite CMAL’s concerns.

“We believe there should have been proper accountability for this important decision.”

In Parliament, after Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross asked Ms Sturgeon who ‘gave the green light’ for the contract, the SNP leader said: ‘Who was Transport Minister at the time in question is , of course, a matter of public domain. . It was Derek Mackay.

Friends of Mr Mackay said he was surprised to have been blamed.

In a statement, he said: “I am ready to cooperate with a parliamentary committee and do my best to answer any questions they may have. To do this in the most comprehensive way possible, I will ask the access to the necessary documents and information to which I am entitled as a former government minister.

Government documents from the time show that Keith Brown, who was cabinet secretary for transport, was asked to name Ferguson as the preferred bidder in August 2015 while Mackay was on furlough.

Documents also confirm Deputy Prime Minister John Swinney’s involvement in the matter, revealing that he “approved the financial implications of the contract award prior to FM’s announcement [the first minister] on August 31 that the FMEL [Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited] were the preferred bidders.

A friend of Mackay’s, who is trying to rebuild his consulting career, said: ‘Derek thinks he’s been a victim of this whole thing and he’s happy to appear before the committee where he’ll set the record straight and deal with facts. .

“He actually says he was fourth in the pecking order around these ferry orders, as a junior transport minister – the most junior of those dealing with it. He was behind the main players: Nicola Sturgeon, John Swinney and Keith Brown.

“Anyone familiar with how these processes work knows that something of this magnitude could never have happened without prior approval from the highest levels.”

Holyrood’s public audit committee is expected to authorize a parliamentary inquiry into the ferry scandal later this month.

Scottish Labor transport spokesman Neil Bibby said: ‘These comments are sure to raise blood pressure in Bute House

“We welcome Derek Mackay’s offer to testify. Nicola Sturgeon and Kate Forbes have completely failed to explain why the Taxpayer was ripped off, the Islanders were abandoned and the workforce saw its future threatened.

“A commission of inquiry is a chance for Derek Mackay to finally set the record straight and shed light on this dark scandal that he desperately needs.

“The prime minister’s attempt to pin the blame on Mackay fell apart within hours, but he was still at the center of the dodgy affair.

“After weeks of misappropriation, secrecy and non-response from a series of ministers, we must hope that Mackay will confess where his former colleagues failed.”

Meanwhile, Alex Neil, a former SNP minister, said questions needed to be put to Scottish officials, including former permanent secretary Leslie Evans.

He said: ‘Given the Auditor General’s comments and CMAL’s well-documented doubts about the lack of loan guarantees, what were officials, senior Scottish Government and Transport Scotland officials doing about it?

“Someone has to be held accountable, there has to be full transparency, full release of documents and emails before a parliamentary committee. Ultimately, there has to be a judge-led investigation and limited in the weather.

Mr Mackay – who was promoted to finance secretary in May 2016 – was forced out of the cabinet in 2020 after he was caught contacting a boy on social media without knowing his age and then sending him 270 messages in six months.

He called him “cute”, invited him to dinner and asked that their conversations remain secret.

Opposition parties called him “predatory” and a classic example of “predation”.

Mr Mackay apologized ‘unreservedly’ to the boy, but he was suspended by the SNP and a party investigation was launched into his behaviour.

He left the SNP in March 2021 and the findings of the investigation were never made public.