Ferguson Marine CalMac ferry scandal: What affair tells us about how the SNP treats its friends – Murdo Fraser MSP

If the SNP leadership ask you to do them a favour I would advise against it. Even, perhaps especially, if you are sympathetic to the cause.

You see while it is a given that the SNP don’t know how to build a ferry, they are very good at throwing their own under a bus.

Let me take you back to a time when the words ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ described a Liberal Democrat, Scottish Labour needed a bus not a unicycle to transport its MPs, and Sepp Blatter ran world football. The year is 2015.

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The Ferguson Marine shipyard on the Clyde is struggling. Taken over by the self-made billionaire and independence supporter Jim McColl, in what was seen as a favour to his close friend Alex Salmond just before the 2014 referendum, it needs orders. The Isle of Arran needs new ferries. And just days ahead of their conference in Aberdeen, the SNP need an announcement.

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Miraculously these needs, wants, and problems, align perfectly, as planets are said to do. This allows the then SNP transport minister Derek Mackay to announce triumphantly to excited delegates that, as he spoke, a contract worth £97 million was being signed to keep Ferguson Marine open and deliver two ferries for Arran. The tears of the faithful could have made their woad run.

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Just two years later, one vessel slid down the slipway with the latest innovation – painted on windows. It wasn’t finished. It still isn’t, nor is the other one, seven years on and, while the ensign has not been raised on either, the price tag has, standing somewhere between £250 million and £400 million.

Now Mr McColl says that the contracts were rushed for “political reasons”. Well blow me down with a feather – or paint on windows and call me a ferry – who would have thought it?

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Despite being 'launched' by the First Minister in 2017, the Glen Sannox remains at the Ferguson Marine shipyard on the Clyde (Picture: John Devlin)

That is when you can hear the sound of the bus. What Mr McColl says is untrue, according to the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who lauded him and the deal at the time.

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It is not factual, says Finance Secretary Kate Forbes who, while distancing herself from the affair by saying it happened years before she was anywhere near Holyrood, accuses Mr McColl of having a “vested interest” and therefore his views ought to be discounted.

Could a Finance Secretary presiding over one of the greatest wastes of Scottish taxpayers’ money in modern history not be similarly accused of having a “vested interest” and therefore also be dismissed?

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Who to believe now? One of the most successful Scottish entrepreneurs of our time or members of a government with zero business experience? Whoever you choose, we can all agree that Mr McColl is not going to get invited to take a selfie in front of the saltires at Bute House any time soon.

I can well remember, back in 2014, Mr McColl being the biggest cheerleader for independence from the business community, standing rather incongruously on Yes campaign platforms, rubbing shoulders with anti-growth figures from the Left like Patrick Harvie. He was indispensable to a cause that lacked credibility with wealth-creators. How quickly that has been forgotten by his erstwhile friends.

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There are other bumps for the bus to run over, and current ministers should take note of the roadkill. Derek Mackay was once tipped as a successor to the First Minister. He was her hardest-working and most loyal supporter. Now he languishes in obscurity and has been blamed for signing the flawed contracts with Ferguson’s by the SNP leadership – but it turns out he was on holiday at the time. A convenient scapegoat turned out to have a solid alibi.

The SNP leadership has a habit of exposing their friends’ feet of clay and then watering them liberally. One only has to think of the First Minister’s “mentor”. Her best political friend. The man she said did not have a “sexist bone in his body” – Alex Salmond. Now she cannot even whisper his name without stopping discussion to remember his victims, even though she didn’t notice anything untoward about him in all those years of close partnership.

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Auld alliances are so easily forgotten by the top brass in the SNP that the French should start to worry. This is a product of their ‘reverse government’ approach. Most administrations start with a policy, then find funding and then issue a press release to announce their plans.

The SNP seem to do the opposite. They start with a press release, try to find the funding and then attempt to engineer a policy to fit. Thus Scotland is promised a national energy company at SNP party conference but none is ever established. Free iPads for underprivileged children get lost in the post. Thousands of ‘green’ jobs are announced but never created.

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Some of this works for them, to be fair. Only last week the First Minister’s odd job man, Patrick Harvie, was telling Newsnight viewers that all of Scotland’s electricity comes from renewables, when that is simply not true.

Considering how she has behaved towards some of her closest ‘friends’, Mr Harvie would do well to remember the First Minister could snatch away his key to the vegan treat box as brutally as she wishes.

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Mr McColl, once a headliner for the Yes campaign, now tells us that he no longer believes in the cause of independence. Given how he has been treated by this SNP government, that about-turn can come as no surprise. He will not be the only one whose experience in dealing with the First Minister and her cronies has led them to the same conclusion.

An English dramatist, no longer required to be taught in our schools, once wrote: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” He might have added: “Especially to the SNP.”

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Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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