Jim McColl, the former owner of Ferguson shipyard, says he believes Keith Brown signed off the deal for the two delayed and overbudget CalMac ferries as Derek Mackay, the former shamed transport minister, was “not available at the time”.
His comments come after Audit Scotland published a report last week stating contracts were given the go-ahead despite “inadequate safeguards” to protect public money.
The watchdog estimates the cost for the ferries deal could run up to two-and-a-half times the original price tag as further delays to the project leave island communities without a vital transport link.
While the delays were initially announced in 2019, after the Scottish Government took the Ferguson Marine shipyard into public ownership when it collapsed into administration, the focus has shifted to the decision to approve the contract for the two vessels against the warnings of the publicly-owned ferry procurer.
Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) expressed concern that the yard could not offer a full refund guarantee and recommended the procurement process be restarted, but the contract was awarded anyway.
However, Mr McColl expressed on Tuesday that he was not aware of CMAL’s discontent.
Speaking on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday, Mr McColl, who was a member of Alex Salmond’s council of economic advisers, said: "I was told that CMAL refused to sign the order and that it had to be a government minister.
"I didn’t understand at the time why but Audit Scotland have revealed why – CMAL were strongly opposed to this and they were gatekeepers here and they should have been respected.”
Mr McColl said the contract was "absolutely” rushed through so SNP could make political gain as he said there was “there was a small amount of responsibility” which lay with Ferguson over the contract.
He added: "It was the first SNP conference Nicola Sturgeon was first Minister at so this was all for political capital in my view when you look at the evidence in hindsight.
"It’s thanks to Audit Scotland that this has all be uncovered and there’s more to it.”
On Monday, Scotland’s Finance Secretary said she “fundamentally disagreed” with the assertion that the announcement of two botched ferries was rushed so it could be made at the SNP conference.
Kate Forbes announced the current estimated cost forecast for the two ferries is up to £206 million.
Mr McColl said he no longer supports independence, adding: "I was an investor in industrial businesses and there was a good opportunity to invest in an industrial business in the west of Scotland and at the same with the benefit of saving a number of jobs.
"I had an independent review carried out by experts early in 2017-2018 and they were highly critical of the way the specification was put together.
"There’s been a fabulous propaganda exercise carried out by the Government to try and put the blame of this onto the previous management at Fergusons.
"Fergusons had absolutely top class management – they did a great job – and that’s why I’m speaking out, to support them. I think they have been unfairly criticised for political purposes.”