THE Scottish Tories have accused Nicola Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code and demanded she refer herself for investigation.

The party claims that the First Minister breached the code by failing to properly record a meeting with Jim McColl, then Ferguson Marine boss, and did not have a civil servant present as required.

Craig Hoy, Tory MSP for South Scotland Region, sent a second letter to the FM following correspondence sent by her to members of Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee.

It comes after Sturgeon gave evidence at the committee on issues surrounding the delayed and over-budget ferries and the contract awarded to Ferguson Marine.

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The Scottish Government denies the allegations against the FM and said the Tories claims are "factually wrong". 

Hoy claims the FM breached paragraphs 4.22 and 4.23 of the code, and that the meeting with McColl in 2017 should have been formally recorded and minuted.

A special adviser was present at the meeting, but the Tories allege that this is in breach of the code, as there is a distinction between a special adviser and civil servant.

The issue was raised during the FM’s evidence session, when Hoy quizzed her on further details of what was discussed at the meeting with McColl on May 31 2017.

The FM told the committee that the discussions were around “concerns about slippage in the contract”.

She added: “There were concerns about what I would describe as the cash flow and financial position of FMEL, so when Jim McColl asked to see me, it was reasonable that I spoke to him, given the importance of the contract, which we are reflecting on now.

The National: The row concerns a meeting between the FM and Jim McCollThe row concerns a meeting between the FM and Jim McColl

“You have seen all the material that will tell you what the issues were that were of concern to him and to us at the time, which were around the finances.

“There had already been discussion about the changing of the milestone payments. The reduction of the final 25 per cent payment to 10 per cent freed up £17 million to help with cash flow.

“Jim was and has been publicly, although not since then, of the view that he had money unfairly tied up in the surety bond.”

McColl, in further evidence submitted to the committee after the FM’s appearance, claimed that he did not approach the government about the cash flow issue until August 31 2017.

He wrote: “In an attempt to resolve the standoff between FMEL and CMAL I met with the First Minister at Bute House to request her intervention to facilitate meaningful discussions around the significant changes and cost increases being experienced in the two ferry contracts.”

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Hoy, chairman of the Scottish Tories, said: “Nicola Sturgeon was quick to deny these claims when responding to my letter following the committee evidence session last month.

“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 said the email evidence provided by the FM “reveals very little about what was actually discussed” and noted that McColl had provided a different version of events.

He added: “I have written to Nicola Sturgeon urging her to refer herself to the independent advisers of the code immediately.

“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 hold a full, independent public inquiry into the whole ferries scandal.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister has complied in full with the obligations of the Ministerial Code in respect of this meeting, and there is nothing in Mr Hoy’s latest letter to indicate otherwise. 

“As the First Minister set out in her response to Mr Hoy on 10 November, this meeting was arranged through the civil service and so, by definition, officials were aware of the details.

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"The meeting was recorded in the official record of Ministerial engagements published by the government. An official – a special advisor – 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.”

We previously told how the FM “categorically” denied accusations of “jobs for the boys” after awarding the contract to Ferguson Marine, then owned by McColl, who was at the time a prominent independence supporter.