The Scottish Government’s top official has been urged to investigate whether civil servants improperly helped the First Minister cover up a misleading statement to parliament.

Permanent Secretary John-Paul Marks has been asked to check if the Civil Service Code was breached to devise a retrospective excuse that would spare Humza Yousaf embarrassment.

Mr Marks has been asked to act "in the name of public trust, probity, and the reputation of the civil service".

The Scottish Tories threatened three weeks ago to involve Mr Marks unless Mr Yousaf referred himself for an investigation under the Scottish Ministerial Code.

In the absence of such a referral, MSP Liam Kerr has now written to Mr Marks, asking him to investigate whether impartial civil servants were asked to collude in a cover-up.

On 22 June, Mr Yousaf wrongly told MSPs that Scotland had the majority of the UK’s renewable energy resources, when in fact it has around a quarter of capacity.

Mr Kerr challenged the accuracy of the statement the same day, but Mr Yousaf did not reply until two months later, saying in a letter that he had always “intended to say ‘per capita’”.

However material later released under freedom of information suggested Mr Yousaf couldn’t have known the per capita figure at the time, as no one had produced it.

Officials knew within hours of his statement to parliament that Scotland had only 26% of UK renewable capacity and generation in 2022, not the majority.

The next day, officials added future renewable projects under construction and in planning into their calculations and raised the Scotland figure to 36%, but this still fell short.

It was not until July 3 that an official circulated a table including per capita figures, which gave Scotland 652GWh per 100,000 people, by far the highest for any part of the UK.

Mr Yousaf then wrote to Mr Kerr on August 29 offering this after-the-fact explanation.

In a letter copied to Holyrood’s Presiding Officer, Mr Yousaf said: “To be clear, in a UK context, we do have the majority of renewables per capita and natural resources, here in Scotland. I had intended to say ‘per capita’ and I hope that clarifies the matter.”

When the FoI material was released last month, Mr Kerr said it showed a cover-up and urged Mr Youisaf to refer himself to his independent ethics adviser for a ruling on whether he had misled parliament, not just initially, but with the follow-up letter as well.

In his new letter to Mr Marks, Mr Kerr said:  “The impression given…. is that the civil service was not acting impartially, and in fact sought to assist the First Minister in covering up his misleading of the Scottish Parliament." 

The Civil Service Code which states civil servants must not “deceive or knowingly mislead" or “be influenced by improper pressures” or act in a way "determined by party political considerations”.

Mr Kerr said the FoI release suggested civil servants had been “concocting excuses" and creating a "retrofitted justification for an inaccurate statistic made by the First Minister".

He added: "It does seem that, in this matter, civil servants give the impression of having acted in a way that was determined by party political considerations.”

He told Mr Marks an “urgent and forensic investigation” was clearly in the public interest and it was his responsibility to decide whether to launch it or not.

Even without an investigation, he asked Mr Marks to say if the civil service had “colluded in retrospectively ‘creating’ new statistics” to correct the FM’s inaccurate statement; whether the FM or anyone else asked civil servants to correct the statement; and if the Civil Service Code was violated.

The North East MSP added: “It is clear to anyone familiar with this sorry tale that the First Minister misled Parliament then sought to retrofit an explanation.

“What is not clear is whether the impartial civil service were asked to collude in this and if so whether by apparently doing so there has been a breach of the Civil Service Code.  

“The only person who can investigate and conclude on that is the Permanent Secretary and I have requested that he do so urgently. This sorry saga of spurious statistics must be scrutinised”.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister has clarified in writing to Liam Kerr MSP and the Presiding Officer that his intention was to say that Scotland has the majority of renewables per capita in the UK.

"This is a matter of fact, evident when comparing renewables capacity of the nations of the UK.

“A letter from Liam Kerr MSP dated 29th September 2023 has been received and will be responded to in due course.”