JOHN Swinney is facing fresh controversy over the exams debacle after it emerged the academic he appointed to lead an “independent review” had urged people to vote SNP.

The Tories said the review was already unravelling and Mr Swinney's choice should be dropped to maintain public trust.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Exams fiasco in Scotland and England.Camley's Cartoon: Exams fiasco in Scotland and England.

However Nicola Sturgeon defended the appointment of Professor Mark Priestley, saying her party was so popular it was impractical to exclude people who didn't support the SNP from such work.

The Education Secretary announced on Tuesday that Mr Priestley, a professor of education at Stirling University, would lead a rapid investigation of the exams crisis and report back within five weeks.

It coincided with Mr Swinney withdrawing almost 125,000 downgrades imposed by the Scottish Qualifications Authority after a week-long backlash from pupils and parents.

Raw teacher estimates used instead of exams because of the coronavirus lockdown will now apply to the 76,000 pupils affected, leading to a double-digit rise in national pass rates.

The SQA this week admitted the results for 2019/20 would not be comparable with other years because of the unprecedented jump, a rise Nicola Sturgeon had called “not credible” before she and Mr Swinney performed their U-turn.

Professor Priestley has been tasked with reviewing the way estimates were made, how the SQA ‘moderated’ them and “transparency and the role of scrutiny”. 

READ MORE: Opinion: Iain Macwhirter: All shall have prizes in the great exams U-turn – except John Swinney 

However the Government’s own transparency about Prof Priestley is now in the spotlight, after the Daily Record revealed he urged people to vote SNP in the recent general election and attacked Boris Johnson.

In a tweet last December, Prof Priestley promoted tactical voting in the Stirling and Ochil seats, which were then both held by Tory MPs.

He said the clear message in the two constituencies was “Vote SNP or get a Tory”.

He also said that voting for a candidate suspended by the SNP over anti-Semitism in Cowdenbeath was “perhaps the lesser of two evils”.

Neale Hanvey, who won the seat and returned to the SNP on condition he undertook anti-Semitism education, had shared a post depicting a Jewish billionaire as a puppetmaster.

Prof Priestley also promoted one of Ms Sturgeon’s attacks on Mr Johnson, writing: “Yep. Nailed in in a single sentence. Nicola Sturgeon: Boris Johnson is ‘dangerous and unfit for office’.”

He also said the PM was an “arse” and “likely to remain so for the next 5 years”, and that voting Tory would mean “5 more years of s***”.

A Tory majority would cause "immeasurable harm", he said.

On election day, Prof Priestley tweeted: “I am voting today tp [sic]  stop Boris Johnson. That means voting tactically. In my constituency that means a vote for the SNP.

“Today, please vote in the interests of the country, putting aside party loyalties.”

Mr Swinney survived a vote of no confidence at Holyrood yesterday thanks to support from the Scottish Greens after being branded a serial failure by his Unionist opponents.

Labour MSP Iain Gray predicted that Mr Swinney would fail again and that the Greens would  "own that failure with him" after keeping him in post.

Scottish Tory education spokesman Jamie Greene said: “The much-heralded SNP plans for a so-called ‘independent review’ into the SQA exams fiasco have unravelled already.

“Less than 24 hours after the Greens saved Mr Swinney’s from the sack, after his second humiliating u-turn in just a few months, it looks like another scandal has engulfed  the education secretary. 

“Scottish parents and pupils demand a truly neutral and fully independent review into the exams fiasco. They will not put up with a whitewash. 

“While Mr Priestley is a respected academic, people will rightly question the views of someone who judges that a candidate suspended by the SNP for anti-semitism is ‘the lesser of two evils’.

“If the SNP are serious about righting their wrongs over this fiasco, and if the public are to have any faith in this review, they must consider removing Mr Priestley.”

Labour MP Ian Murray said last night: “If the review isn’t properly independent it will make Mr Swinney and the First Minister’s humiliating apology a little vacuous.

READ MORE: John Swinney likely to survive no-confidence vote

“The ill-judged remarks from Professor Priestley about the SNP politician who was suspended after being accused of anti-Semitic posts require an explanation.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Professor Priestley will conduct a wholly independent review. He is a widely respected academic with impeccable credentials.

“We are certain his review will be detailed and rigorous.”

Professor Priestley has been approached for comment.