Nicola Sturgeon urged to refer herself over ‘double breach’ of ministerial code

By Bill Heaney  

The Scottish Conservatives are today calling on Nicola Sturgeon to refer herself for investigation under the Ministerial Code after “clear breaches” of it during the ferries fiasco.

The Tories say the First Minister broke the code by failing to properly record a meeting with then-Ferguson Marine boss Jim McColl and by not fulfilling the requirement for a civil servant to be present.

Scottish Conservative MSP Craig Hoy has written to the First Minister for a second time following correspondence sent by her to members of the Public Audit Committee.

The complaint follows evidence given by the SNP leader to the committee last month in relation to the SNP’s ferry scandal.

Mr Hoy, the party chairman and a member of the committee, says the responses from Nicola Sturgeon breach paragraphs 4.22 and 4.23 of the Ministerial Code.

He says that Ms Sturgeon should have ensured that a meeting with Mr McColl in May 2017 was formally noted or minuted.

Tycoon Jim McColl, Tory chairman Craig Hoy and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

During a committee hearing last month, the First Minister said she would provide details of the meeting. However, files lodged with the committee just hours before the deadline contain no substantive record of it.

Mr Hoy says an email sent by an unnamed Special Adviser after the McColl meeting does not contain the “basic facts” required to be recorded under the Code.

He has also raised concerns that a Special Adviser – rather than a private secretary or civil servant – was present with Ms Sturgeon at the meeting. The Ministerial Code is clear there is a distinction between Special Advisers and civil servants as set out in the Special Advisers Code of Conduct.

Mr Hoy has urged the First Minister to refer herself to the current independent advisers of the Ministerial Code to determine whether she has fallen short of the standards expected.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP, 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.

“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. 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.

“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.”

Link to Ministerial Code:

https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/advice-and-guidance/2018/02/scottish-ministerial-code-2018-edition/documents/00531094-pdf/00531094-pdf/govscot%3Adocument/00531094.pdf

Link to Special Advisers code: https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/agreement/2017/04/special-advisers-code-of-conduct-and-model-contract/documents/code-conduct-special-advisers-pdf/code-conduct-special-advisers-pdf/govscot%3Adocument/Code%2Bof%2Bconduct%2Bfor%2Bspecial%2Badvisers.pdf

Link to report of Public Audit Committee on 4 November 2022: https://www.parliament.scot/api/sitecore/CustomMedia/OfficialReport?meetingId=13965

Jim McColl’s evidence to the Public Audit Committee re the May 2017 meeting with Nicola Sturgeon can be found on page three here: https://www.parliament.scot/-/media/files/committees/public-audit-committee/correspondence/2022/new-vessels-j-mccoll-to-pac-further-sub-11-nov-2022.pdf

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