Ferry Fiasco Continues – Scotsman Article – 29 July 2021


The fiasco on Scotland’s ferries continues and still seems far from a safe harbour. It’s consequences felt not just on the island communities served by them, but in the industrial communities that should be benefitting from constructing them. Instead a tourist season’s ruined in the former and the threat of closure looms over the latter. 

It’s not just a shambles, it’s a disgrace. Scotland needs new ships and they should be getting built here, not having orders placed south of the border or even abroad. Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow has been taken into public ownership and Cal Mac is likewise in state hands. If anything else takes place blame, can only rest with the Scottish Government. 

For this should be a virtuous circle of a hard-pressed Scottish yard serving the needs of similarly challenged communities when older ships are urgently needing replaced. Simple you would think. But not so and it seems to go back to catastrophic incompetence by CMAL, the quango that acquires and leases the ships to Cal Mac and failures by the Scottish Government.   

Now I’m an admiring biographer of Jimmy Reid and with family on both sides having worked in the shipyards, my maternal grandad having been in the east coast yards in Burntisland, Grangemouth and Leith whilst my father’s family were on the Clyde. That has given me a predilection to supporting the workforce, as well as normally being condemnatory of the owners. But not so with Ferguson Marine, where my sympathies lie, along with for the current fearful workforce, with the former owner Jim McColl.    

Let’s recall that back in 2014 when the yard was again in trouble, he was approached by the Scottish Government and agreed to take it over. He was vaunted then by the Scottish Government and rightly so. It would have been, as it will be if it still happens, a disaster for Port Glasgow and all Scotland. 

Now I understand he’s Scotland’s richest man but he’s a businessman and took it over to turn it around. Making it profitable runs in his veins, as it does in all entrepreneurs blessed with that acumen. But though no doubt intent on making a profit he was also answering his countries call, as he could have made more elsewhere or just investing it somewhere. 

But his support for the venture was not matched by support for him by government or agencies. It seems clear that CMAL tendered far to early and then sought far to many changes. Changes that were complex and Ferguson Marine rightly felt should be paid for by CMAL. External experts have confirmed that. 

Yet the Scottish Government rallied behind their incompetent quango and the Yard was eventually nationalised. It seems that had payment simply been made as requested, we’d be in a better place. Something has gone catastrophically wrong and a public enquiry there should be, but the fingerprints of failure are of quango and government .   

Saving the yard remains priority and that must be done.