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Full list of points that undermine Nicola Sturgeon and SNP’s story over ferries fiasco

Jim McColl, Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay.
Jim McColl, Nicola Sturgeon and Derek Mackay.

From delayed vessels to censored emails and contracts being awarded to shipyards abroad, it’s been a torrid time for the SNP as the ferries scandal escalates.

The first minister insists contracts given to Ferguson Marine in 2015 were above board, despite admitting mistakes were made.

But the government’s confidence appeared to waver in recent days with admissions CalMac is failing islanders.

With the ferry fiasco unlikely to go away anytime soon, here are the growing number of key points undermining the SNP’s version of events.


1 – Vessels are now ‘obsolete’

Earlier this year, the Scottish Government said the new Calmac ferries would be “greener, quieter, reliable vessels”.

Appearing before MSPs on June 16, Ex-Ferguson’s boss Jim McColl astonishingly claimed the two ships being built in Port Glasgow will actually be “obsolete” by the time they are completed.

Speaking at Holyrood’s Public Audit Committee, the businessman insisted the vessels will not be environmentally friendly due to using liquified natural gas.

He also warned that the boats could potentially omit “poisonous gases” into the air while in the water.

2 – Worker reputations ‘sullied’

Nicola Sturgeon and government ministers have repeatedly insisted they will take responsibility for ferries failings.

However, during his evidence session in parliament Mr McColl said staff at Ferguson Marine had unfairly had their reputations “sullied”.

Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow.
Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow.

The former shipyards boss added that workers have been left with depression due to “false claims” made about their quality of work.

Mr McColl also insisted that senior management at Ferguson’s are still being subjected to gagging orders which stop them from speaking out about the fiasco.

3 – Lengthy delays to projects

When Ferguson Marine was awarded a contract to construct two new vessels in 2015, they were supposed to complete both projects by 2018.

Four years on, neither ship has yet been fully built with further delays and increasing costs expected.

A recent Audit Scotland report warned the vessels won’t be in service until 2023 at the earliest.

It also found that the project is now running at more than two times over the original budget, a major additional expense for the taxpayer.

All the while, rural communities across the country are being left with dwindling lifeline services.

Rhoda Grant MSP, Scottish Labour’s island spokeswoman, says: “The SNP have abandoned island communities and left Scotland’s lifeline ferry fleet to rust.

“Years of neglect have left Scotland’s ferry fleet in a pitiful state, and their catastrophic mismanagement of the Ferguson’s Marine contracts made a bad situation worse.

“It is little wonder costs are soaring when we are relying on vessels a decade past their lifespan.

“The SNP’s shambolic approach to shipbuilding has failed islanders, workers and taxpayers alike.”

4 – Fallout with ex-shipyard boss

Ex-Ferguson’s boss Mr McColl had been a key business ally of the Scottish Government when he stepped in to take control of the ailing firm weeks before the independence referendum.

But he has since claimed the 2015 contract was rushed through by the SNP for “political capital”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Jim McColl.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with Jim McColl.

The tycoon claimed there had been a “fabulous propaganda exercise” from Nicola Sturgeon’s party to shift blame for repeated calamities onto Ferguson’s workers.

He said bosses at the shipyard had been “unfairly criticised” for “political purposes” over the fiasco.

As the furious row over the scandal escalated, Mr McColl branded Ms Sturgeon a “liar” for claiming Ferguson’s would have gone bust without the two ferry contracts.

5 – Lack of transparency over awarding the contract

Years after the deal was first reached, uncertainty still reigned over who took the final decision to allow Ferguson’s to contract the ships.

Mr McColl insists he only learned recently that publicly owned CMAL opposed the agreement and warned the SNP against it.

He said: “Had I known at the time they were strongly opposed to it, I wouldn’t have taken this contract.

“How can you work with a buyer that doesn’t want you to be there?”

In a highly critical report last week, the Audit Scotland watchdog said it could not establish why ministers dropped a requirement for full repayment guarantees if Mr McColl’s Ferguson yard failed to build the ships on time or went bust.

The billionaire told The Sunday Times he had made it clear to the government, and Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), he could not provide the mandatory refund guarantee for the contract.

H also claimed ministers were in a rush so the contract could be announced at the SNP’s autumn conference in 2015.

Ms Sturgeon says the businessman’s assertion was “flatly wrong” and all proper checks were carried out before the agreement was reached.

6 – SNP deflect blame from John Swinney

Who gave the project the green light?

Disgraced former finance secretary Derek Mackay, then a junior minister, according to Ms Sturgeon.

However, previously missing emails have emerged which confirm deputy first minister John Swinney signed off on the contract.

It emerged he had been given a chance to look at the deal before it was then finally approved.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney
Deputy First Minister John Swinney.

And he was also aware that there was a possibility the agreement could face legal challenges further down the line.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “Honest John’s hands are all over this dodgy deal.”

Mr Swinney insists he was only being kept up to date.

Disgraced ex-minister Derek Mackay.
Disgraced ex-minister Derek Mackay.

Ms Sturgeon told parliament in May: “It seems obvious to anybody who is looking at this, the deputy first minister did not take the decision, he wasn’t even copied into the advice which was the basis of that decision.

“He was simply briefed on the decision after it was taken, not even at his request, but on the initiative of an official.”

7 – New ships being built abroad

Nicola Sturgeon and her cabinet have continually insisted they made the right decision to bring Ferguson’s into public ownership in 2019.

Transport minister Jenny Gilruth claimed the shipyard must be made “viable” to ensure it is value for money.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.
Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

But in March the government sparked anger when they snubbed Ferguson’s and instead awarded contracts for two new boats to a Turkish shipyard.

SNP rivals criticised the decision to build the vessels abroad, with no Scottish yards even included in the bidding process.

Ms Gilruth insisted all possible deals will go through a procurement process, but added that Ferguson’s would be a part of that in future.

8 – Boat launched with painted windows

In 2019 it emerged a ferry launched nearly two years previously had fake windows which had been painted on.

Black paint was daubed on the front of the Glen Sannox vessel despite millions having already been spent on the boat.

Another two years down the line and little has changed, with the boat being one of the major projects behind schedule for completion.

Delayed ferry Glen Sannox.
Delayed ferry Glen Sannox.

Last September, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “The First Minister says the company she owns (the Ferguson shipyard was nationalised in 2019) is on a journey – people want ferry journeys and that’s what this government needs to address.

“Saving the yard is one thing, but sustaining the yard is another.

“Launching a ferry with painted on windows, is that the best we can hope from this government?

“The truth is the failure to deliver these ferries is the result of complacency and ineptitude on the part of this SNP government.”

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