Defending Jim McColl – 6 January 2023


The Scottish Government announcement of an order for two new CalMac vessels going to a Turkish shipyard confirms the malaise on the Clyde. We have communities desperately needing new vessels to replace an ageing fleet and we’ve a yard in Scotland with the potential for its expansion. We also seek an industrial strategy for our heartlands in the 21st Century. It’s not rocket science to join the three.

It is why there’s a publication now out called Caledonian Inquirer which looks at  the ongoing saga on the Clyde. It shows not just what has gone wrong but more importantly what is needed to sort it out. Some might view it as a defence of Jim McColl, former owner of Ferguson Marine, but if that’s the worst they say, I’ll plead guilty.

I’m sure Mr McColl would accept some things should have been done better but the problems go far deeper than one man. He stepped in when the yard was doomed and still offers an opportunity for its salvation and expansion.

As this publication shows, the fault lies elsewhere, predating him and continuing far beyond two doomed vessels which have yet to be delivered by the yard.

Some Tories have even shamefully suggested an almost conspiracy between the First Minister and Mr McColl, despite the rift between them. But their desire to get at the FM ignores the facts.

The Caledonian Inquirer publication lays them out. The contributors include Scots who’ve made their mark and their millions building ferries around the globe and want to see the Clyde revived. Others have expertise in maritime issues or represent communities desperate for a service they can rely on. It also features views from politicians on different sides of the constitutional debate like myself and the Labour MSP Paul Sweeney.

The defence there are bigger mistakes south of the border are undoubtedly true – but this is our mess and no one else can sort it. Westminster never cared about the yards in the past and they’re not bothering now. Warships are all they can see on the horizon beyond the City of London.

Let’s address some of the facts. The Tory assertion of preferential treatment for Mr McColl given there was no inclusion of a ‘refund guarantee’, which would have protected the public purse if the vessels were not delivered, is a red herring. Given the recent establishment of his company, it was impossible to provide such a guarantee and alternative securities were given. In any event, it highlights why UK shipyards have been doomed. Whilst state banks provide such assurances for German and Finnish yards, no such scheme exists for UK ones.

There never was a fixed price contract for the vessels. The notional price of £97 million for the ships was so heavily caveated, it was meaningless. With the deal rushed through to allow for a grandstand announcement by the First Minister, it all unravelled given the lack of definition of what was being built.

The Caledonian Inquirer sets that out. It also shows the culpability of Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, a wholly owned public corporation of the Scottish Government, an organization that needs to be abolished while Sturgeon must accept culpability for supporting it. But under the right leadership, Ferguson Marine can build the right ferries that our communities need.