By Bill Heaney
First Minister Humza Yousaf today struggled to defend SNP Cabinet Secretary Jenny Gilruth over a “clear breach of the Ministerial Code” when she was transport minister.
At FMQs in the Holyrood parliament, the Scottish Conservatives called for an urgent independent investigation into reports that Jenny Gilruth intervened inappropriately to delay a rail upgrade for purely political reasons.
A Freedom of Information response makes clear that, instead of a few days of closures after Christmas, Jenny Gilruth pushed for more than six weeks of disruption, including four full weekend closures.
Douglas Ross, pictured left, said her decision had cost taxpayers at least £1 million and caused greater disruption for passengers. He added it looked like a “clear-cut sack-able offence”.
The Scottish Conservative leader highlighted Scottish Rail Holdings Board papers, released under Freedom of Information laws, which state: “The Board is asked to note that Network Rail and ScotRail chose to do the work at this time precisely to minimise the number of passengers impacted, and Transport Scotland were fully aware of and endorsed this approach.”
Those board papers also show that Chris Gibb, who worked in the rail industry for more than 40 years and chaired ScotRail in 2022, raised concerns over “micromanagement by Scottish Ministers, advisors and officials”.
Mr Gibb resigned just a few weeks after Ms Gilruth’s decision.
Further FOI responses show that ScotRail advised that 9,000 more customers every day would be disrupted as a result of her decision.
The responses show that ScotRail reviewed the decision and concluded a revised plan would result in “greater costs with more customers disrupted/inconvenienced”.
The essential works that Jenny Gilruth delayed have still not happened.
Douglas Ross said: “It’s clear that Jenny Gilruth changed plans that had been agreed for 18 months with just weeks to go for purely selfish, political reasons.
“Jenny Gilruth’s inappropriate interference to force this change will cost taxpayers more and lead to greater disruption for passengers. This seems to be a truly awful decision.
“It is ridiculous that Humza Yousaf is defending Jenny Gilruth when she went against the advice of Network Rail, ScotRail and Transport Scotland.
“The SNP leader struggled to come up with any excuses to defend this dire decision.
“Jenny Gilruth shouldn’t even have been involved in this, given the relevance to her constituency. She should have recused herself because of the clear potential for a conflict of interest.
“This looks like a breach of the ministerial code and a clear-cut sack-able offence. It requires an urgent independent investigation.”
Douglas Ross said later: “Having been told by journalists that the First Minister was waiting for a formal request before launching an investigation into a possible breach of the Ministerial Code by Jenny Gilruth, I have this afternoon written to him doing just that.
“In a rambling performance at FMQs, Humza Yousaf said he had investigated the issue prior to coming to the chamber and was satisfied Jenny Gilruth had done nothing wrong, before saying he’d be happy to investigate it further.
“Naturally, I am therefore concerned that the First Minister has already pre-judged the outcome of the investigation he’s agreed to hold. But it is very clear the serious issues raised around Jenny Gilruth’s conduct need to be fully investigated.”
Top picture: The new Education Minister Jenny Gilruth with First Minister Humza Yousaf.