Nicola Sturgeon also declined the invitation to brand former yard owner, Jim McColl, a liar after the tycoon said she had lied on the issue of the ferries, instead saying his view was “wrong”.
Construction of the Glen Sannox and hull 802 is five years late and at least £150m overbudget, with Ferguson Marine also taken into administration in 2019.
During First Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, the Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross asked whether the First Minister understood how angry the public is when she uses “weasel words like regrettable” instead of apologising as a quarter of a billion of taxpayers’ money has been spent “and not a single ferry built”.
The Scottish Government has faced intense political pressure to reveal why ministers decided to award the yard the contract for two ferries in 2015 despite warnings from ferry infrastructure body CMAL.
In response to Mr Ross’ question, the First Minister said she understood how angry the public is but claimed anger was in fact directed towards the UK Government.
Ms Sturgeon said it is Ross who will feel “the full force of that [anger] tomorrow” ahead of the local council elections.
Her comments come as Scottish Labour is set to comfortably beat the Scottish Conservatives into second in the council elections as the party opens up a seven point lead in the Holyrood constituency voting intention, according to a recent survey by Savanta ComRes for The Scotsman.
Addressing the ferry scandal, Ms Sturgeon said: “I've made very clear that the delays and the cost overruns are deeply regrettable and I do believe when things don’t go right in government, it is important leaders says so. If only other government followed the same principle perhaps things might be a bit different.
"I will not – and I’m afraid I will not be moved from this – apologise for decisions that allowed the last commercial shipbuilder on the Clyde to continue in business, that allows 400 workers to be employed there today earning a way and supporting there families, and I will not apologise for an investment in new ferries because the Government is focused on ensuring these ferries are completed as part of our overall investment in Scotland’s ferry network.”
Speaking to journalists at a campaign stop near Holyrood, Ms Sturgeon said she stood by her words on the BBC on the number of jobs saved at the yard which Mr McColl had said were a lie.
She added: “If Jim McColl’s argument is that he would have continued to invest his money in a yard that had no major contracts and therefore wouldn't have made them any money, he’s obviously changed a lot since the Jim McColl I knew, because that’s not the Jim McColl I knew.
"I’m not sure it is tenable or credible to argue that a yard with no major contracts would have continued to operate indefenitely.”
The First Minister also declined to call the tycoon a liar, but stated he was “wrong” and that Mr McColl is not an “objective, disinterested observer”.
The SNP leader also highlighted inconsistencies in the former shipyard’s own interview, claiming Ferguson Marine had not raised the issue around a full builder’s guarantee until after being named a preferred bidder.
Mr McColl said he was raising concerns with the government on August 26, but FMEL was recommended to ministers as the preferred bidder on August 20, government documents show.
Ms Sturgeon said: “He bid for a contract where the contract was clear and he didn’t in the bid, or his company didn’t in the bid, say we’re bidding but only on the basis that this isn’t being given, that only emerged after.”