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Ex-shipyards boss Jim McColl accuses SNP of ‘propaganda exercise’ over ferries fiasco

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

Former Ferguson Marine boss Jim McColl claimed the SNP were carrying out a “fabulous propaganda exercise” to shift blame over delays to ferries for rural Scotland.

The tycoon blasted the Scottish Government over the fiasco and claims he would not have invested in two contracts to build new vessels had he known operator CMAL were against it.

The two new boats – being built in Port Glasgow – are now running four years late and are more than two times over budget.

A contract was awarded to Fergusons by the Scottish Government in 2015, but the firm later went into administration and was brought under public ownership.

Businessman Mr McColl claimed the deal was pushed through by Nicola Sturgeon’s party to boost their own “political capital”.

One of the ferries being built at Ferguson Marine shipyard.

But the first minister said this was “flatly wrong” and was insistent that all the proper checks were carried out before the contract was awarded to Fergusons.

Mr McColl said: “There has been a fabulous propaganda exercise carried out to try and put the blame of this onto the previous management at Fergusons.

“They have been unfairly criticised and this is clearly for political purposes to put the blame onto them.”

He added: “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?”

The ex-shipyards tycoon denied that Fergusons had been unfit to take on the contract and instead said the specifications of the project were later changed.

Rural confidence ‘not high’

It comes as transport minister Jenny Gilruth claimed more ferries could still be built in Scotland while admitting rural confidence in CalMac is “not high” at the moment.

She said nationalised Fergusons shipyard has to be made “viable” despite the ongoing building delays.

A probe by public spending watchdog Audit Scotland last week said islanders were being left without vital lifeline links due to the scandal.

Ms Gilruth admitted many rural Scots are currently reliant upon an ageing fleet of boats which will need to be replaced in coming years.

Earlier this month a Turkish shipyard was the preferred bidder to build two new vessels to serve Islay and Jura.

‘Boats can still be built in Scotland’

But Ms Gilruth told the Daily Record: “We have a publicly-owned shipyard in Fergusons and we need to make sure it is viable going forward.

“We have one of the largest ferry fleets in western Europe.

“A substantial number of those boats are older – therefore there is a real requirement to replace those vessels, and for a shipyard to provide that work.

“In the future, any bidder would need to go through the procurement process, but we want Fergusons to be part of that.”

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.

Ms Gilruth revealed she will meet CalMac bosses later this week over cancellations to key services in recent months during winter.

Recently fed-up locals in Oban launched their own petition for a publicly-owned and operated ferry service.

Ms Gilruth said: “Islander confidence in Cal Mac just now is not particularly high.

“I will be meeting with CalMac this week to discuss a number of different issues, including service cancellation.

“I have offered an unequivocal apology to islanders over the service they had over the winter period. I don’t think it’s been acceptable.”

Last week there were opposition demands for disgraced ex-SNP minister Derek Mackay to appear in Holyrood over the ferry fiasco.

Scottish Government ferry operator spends £170,000 on overseas travel

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