Former deputy first minister Nicol Stephen was gagged by civil servants when he tried to secure a £1billion energy institute for Aberdeen, it can be revealed today.
The Liberal Democrat leader made it “abundantly clear” two years ago that the city was the best location in Scotland, given its status as the oil capital of Europe, according to a report.
The same report claims his view was privately backed by the Westminster Government.
But civil servants told him to keep his views to himself because a joint bid between several Scottish universities for an Energy Technologies Institute headquarters would be “stronger and preferable” to a single bid by Aberdeen University.
After the SNP formed the Scottish Government last May, ministers decided not to interfere with the process that they had inherited from the previous Scottish Executive because it enjoyed the “confidence of the consortium”.
But Mr Stephen criticised them for their lack of action, which resulted in Glasgow being chosen as the preferred location in Scotland – but Loughborough University in the English Midlands winning the bid.
“SNP ministers opted out of this responsibility and Aberdeen has paid the price,” he said at the time.
The revelations that the Aberdeen South MSP was backing his home city for the centre are contained in a report by Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee.
The committee has held an extensive inquiry into why Scotland failed in its bid.
Mr Stephen, a former enterprise minister, told MSPs: “My view was always that Aberdeen had the strongest case for becoming the hub or headquarters of the Energy Technology Institute.
“I made this view known to civil servants responsible for developing Scotland’s bid.
“I was urged not to make this view public as it would have almost certainly ended any prospect of a joint Scottish bid.”
Mr Stephen’s aides sent an e-mail to policy officials in December, 2006 stating: “The deputy first minister thinks we must start to develop a full proposal, based on the institute being in Aberdeen.”
The report revealed Mr Stephen asked civil servants for a “steer on the issue” in 2007 and was told the UK Government favoured the Granite City.
However, ministers at Westminster could not make their views public because they could not be seen to be favouring Scotland.
Mr Stephen said: “The SNP allowed Glasgow to be picked by three civil servants behind closed doors – they should have been fighting Aberdeen’s corner.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “We will consider the committee’s report.