DISGRACED former Finance Secretary Derek Mackay is coming under pressure to answer questions from MSPs over his role in the botched Ferguson Marine ferry deal.

The ex-minister - who resigned in a sleaze scandal involving a teenager in 2020 - has been blamed for signing off the contract to build two new vessels despite a number of red flags over the finances. 

Earlier this week, Audit Scotland published a scathing report into the attempts to get Hull 801, also known as the MV Glen Sannox, and Hull 802, into the water. The two ferries are now years behind schedule, and costs have soared from £97m to at least £240m.

The problems started back in 2014, one week ahead of the independence referendum, when then first minister, Alex Salmond personally intervened to persuade Yes supporting billionaire businessman Jim McColl to take over the under-threat Ferguson’s shipyard in Port Glasgow.

A year later, at the opening of the SNP’s conference in Aberdeen, Mr Mackay told party members that this new company Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) was the winner of a £97 million contract to build two new ships for the state-owned ferry network operated by CalMac.

Ferguson’s bid was the most expensive of the six yards that tendered, but outscored them on “quality”.

However, the new firm didn’t have the finance to put in the normal safeguards or guarantees for a public project of this scale – leaving the Government at risk.

CMAL – which owns the vessels and network – wanted to walk away as “there were too many risks involved to award the contract”, They made their objections clear to Transport Scotland at the time, however, they were overruled by the government.

The Audit Scotland report said it was “not clear what discussions took place between Scottish ministers and Transport Scotland about the contract award.

“There is no documented evidence to confirm why Scottish ministers were willing to accept the risks of awarding the contract to FMEL, despite CMAL’s concerns.”

Yesterday, the First Minister's official spokesman said it was Mr Mackay who had taken the decision to ignore the ferry firm's warnings and sign off on the deal. 

Scottish Labour has demanded that both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Mr Mackay now go before the Public Audit Committee to provide answers. 

The party’s transport spokesperson Neil Bibby has written to Public Audit Committee Convenor Richard Leonard, insisting “the public deserve answers”.

He said: “Nicola Sturgeon pointed the finger at her former Transport Secretary before accepting that the buck stops with her – but both dodged scrutiny last term by refusing to appear before a Parliamentary inquiry.

“We cannot keep getting useless answers from clueless Ministers who take no responsibility for this mess.”

The Tory transport spokesperson, Graham Simpson also called for Mr Mackay to come to Parliament and explain “his key role in the ferry fiasco after more than two years of silence.”

He said: “Astonishing amounts of public money have been squandered by the SNP on this, and Scotland’s island communities deserve an explanation for the interminable delay in the completion of these two lifeline ferries.”

Scottish LibDem MSP Willie Rennie said it was “awfully convenient” that the First Minister had put the blame for the mess at the feet of “someone who has since departed politics.”

“If we are to take the First Minister at her word, it was Derek Mackay and Derek Mackay alone who signed off on deals which are set to cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions more than originally scheduled. 

“It is awfully convenient for Nicola Sturgeon that the latest scandal threatening to beset her government can be neatly blamed on

“Derek Mackay should appear before parliament to give his side of the story and confirm whether it is true that the First Minister and the rest of her cabinet had no input into the decision to take over Ferguson Marine.”

During First Minster’s Questions on Thursday, the Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross asked Ms Sturgeon to say who “gave the green light” for the contract.

The SNP leader replied: “Who was transport minister at the time in question is, of course, a matter of public record. That was Derek Mackay. But of course, this is a government and this may be alien to the Conservatives, I understand, but this is a government that operates by collective responsibility.

“And ultimately, as with any decisions – whether I am personally involved in them or not – responsibility stops with me.”

Her official spokesman later made clear the decision was taken entirely by Mr Mackay.

Mr Mackay – who was promoted to finance secretary in May 2016 – was forced to quit the cabinet in 2020 after the Scottish Sun revealed he contacted a boy over social media without knowing his age, then sent him 270 messages in six months.

He called him “cute”, invited him to dinner, and asked for their conversations to stay secret.

Opposition parties called it “predatory” and a textbook example of “grooming”.

Last month, The Herald revealed that he has now set up a consultancy firm, Lochan Associates Ltd.

The company is registered at the address of a chartered accountancy firm in Paisley, within Mr Mackay’s former constituency of Renfrewshire North and West.