Ferguson Marine Ferrygate scandal: Incompetence not illegality is the cause of this fiasco – Kenny MacAskill MP

“It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up that gets you”, as the saying goes and it applies as much to the Scottish ferry fiasco as other scandals.

The illegality here, or rather the threat of a legal challenge over the awarding of the contract to Ferguson Marine, is largely a red herring but it’s what this led to that matters.

For there was nothing really new in the supposedly lost document produced by the Scottish Government last week. Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was right to say there had been potential warnings about a legal challenge but there was no criminality and it’s largely tangential.

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It was no doubt embarrassing for the First Minister to be skewered when redacted documents were easily readable in full. But the issue had always been known.

The 'Shipbuilders of Port Glasgow' sculpture alongside the Ferguson Marine shipyard (Picture: Jane Barlow/PA)

Suggestions that the deal with Ferguson Marine lacked a full refund guarantee are spurious as other arrangements were made. And EU procurement rules are largely advisory, not mandatory, as other European nations show daily. The root of the fiasco lies in what followed.

CMAL, the procurement agency, didn’t want the order to go to Fergusons but were forced into it by the Scottish Government, a decision I support. But it meant CMAL was left with a contractor they didn’t want and the relationship with Fergusons deteriorated. But CMAL did have leverage over the government.

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As former Ferguson’s owner Jim McColl told a previous Holyrood inquiry, ex-minister Derek McKay, now being blamed for the fiasco, said he couldn’t interfere when the relationship broke down. The reason was that CMAL’s bosses had threatened to resign en masse and would no doubt state he’d instructed them to break the rules by giving the order to Ferguson’s despite legal warnings.

There are two principal faults here and CMAL and the Scottish Government have their fingerprints all over them.

Firstly, they’re the wrong type of ships. There are cheaper, faster and better vessels available and Ferguson’s can build them. Instead, they’re struggling with an insane model.

Secondly, the shipyard should be allowed to build what’s been designed. From what I hear, most of the major faults relate not to poor workmanship, but design changes made by CMAL.

It’s not the illegality but the incompetence that’s the issue here and blame rests with government and their procurement agency.

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