Ferrygate – 19 May 2022


“It’s not the crime it’s the cover up that gets you” and that applies as much to the Scottish ferry fiasco as in other scandals. The illegality here, or rather threat of legal challenge, is largely a red herring but it’s what it led to that matters. 

For there was nothing really new in the supposed lost document produced in Holyrood by the Transport Minister last week. Douglas Ross was right to say that there had been potential warnings about illegality but not only were they not criminal, they were largely tangential. 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.

Suggestions that Ferguson Marine lacked guarantee cover are spurious as other arrangements were made. As for EU procurement rules, well they’re largely advisory not mandatory as other European nations show daily. But it’s what it led to that’s at the root of the fiasco.

CMAL the procurement agency didn’t want the order to go to Fergusons but were directed to do so by the Scottish Government. A decision I should add that I support. But it meant that CMAL were left with a contractor they didn’t want and the relationship with Fergusons deteriorated. But CMAL did have leverage over the Scottish Government.

As Jim McColl said in evidence in a previous Holyrood Inquiry, Derek McKay, now getting the blame for the fiasco, said he couldn’t interfere when the relationship broke down between CMAL and Fergusons. The reason being that they’d threatened to resign en masse and no doubt stating he’d instructed them to break the rules by giving the order to Fergusons and in the face of legal warnings.

Accordingly, he did nothing, designs were chopped and changed, relationships between procurer and supplier broke down and the debacle unfolded.

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 in the first place. There’s cheaper, faster and better vessels available and Fergusons can build them. Instead, they’re struggling with an insane model. Secondly, the shipyard needs to be able to get on and 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.