NICOLA Sturgeon has addressed key points in the ongoing ferry saga after being confronted by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross at First Minister’s Questions (FMQs).

Opening FMQs, Ross brought up the words of Jim McColl, who was the owner of Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) when the firm collapsed and was nationalised.

However, the Scottish Tory leader quoted McColl, a billionaire based in the tax haven of Monaco, as saying that the shipyard had not in fact been in danger of collapse.

Ross said: “Jim McColl didn't mince his words on the radio yesterday. He called the First Minister out for lying. He said, and I quote, there was no danger of the yard going under at that time … no matter what because the yard had other strong contracts.”

However, Sturgeon rejected this claim, casting doubt on whether McColl would have invested in a shipyard without contracts.

READ MORE: Kate Forbes: McColl has 'clear interest' in shifting blame around ferry delays

“Jim McColl is many things but he's not a disinterested, objective observer on these matters,” she said.

Sturgeon went on: “[McColl’s claim] the yard would not have been in jeopardy, would not have potentially closed had that contract not been awarded … wasn't tested, of course. That can only be a matter of opinion.

“But I’ll tell you this. If Jim McColl is seriously arguing that he would have continued to invest his money in a yard that had no major contracts, all I can say is that is not the Jim McColl I know, so people can make up their own mind.”

When the contract was initially awarded in 2015 it was valued at £97 million. The ferries had been due to enter service in 2018. The two ferries – vessels 801 and 802 – are now projected to cost as much as £250m and not enter service until 2023.

Potential delays to the ferries were raised as early as February 2016, with McColl being told of ministers’ concerns about his business’s cash flow in March 2017. By the time FMEL was nationalised in 2019, the company had received £128.25m from the Scottish Government.

The National: Nicola Sturgeon and Jim McColl (centre) after FMEL won the government contractsNicola Sturgeon and Jim McColl (centre) after FMEL won the government contracts

Ahead of the signing of the contracts in 2015, FMEL confirmed that it was unable to provide a full Builders Refund Guarantee (BRG), raising further questions about its cash flow at the time. Such a guarantee would have protected public cash in the event the ferries were not delivered.

However, concerns raised by CMAL (the Scottish Government-owned firm Caledonian Maritime Assets) were overridden by the government, which handed FMEL the contract anyway. Audit Scotland found there was “insufficient documentary evidence to explain why Scottish ministers accepted the risks and were content to approve the contract award”.

At FMQs, Ross suggested that this “vital missing document” had been shredded.

The National:

Sturgeon also addressed McColl’s claims that she had lied when she said that keeping the yard afloat had protected 400 jobs.

The billionaire said: “That is a lie and at the time there were 150 employed, not 400.”

Speaking at FMQs, the First Minister said: “He seemed to claim that I said there were 400 people employed in the yard back in 2015. I didn't say that as the transcript will show.

“I said that 400 people are currently employed there, earning a wage and supporting their families, who would not be in employment today had the contract had not been awarded. That is just a matter of fact.”

McColl had also previously claimed he had not signed the contract for the ferries.

However, this was revealed to have been untrue when documents bearing his signature were uncovered.

McColl told the BBC earlier this week: “I did sign it, that was a mistake.”

Asked why he had claimed not to have signed, he added: “Because at the time I wasn’t aware that I had until I checked up after I’d said it. It was signed by the CEO of the yard and I did countersign it.”

Speaking at Holyrood, Scottish Tory leader Ross said the ferry fiasco was an example of the “secrecy and incompetence this government is famous for”.

He said: “All we hear from Nicola Sturgeon is this is ‘regrettable’ … First Minister, do you understand how angry it makes the public when you use weasel words like ‘regrettable’ rather than giving them the apology they deserve?”

Referencing the council elections due to be held on Thursday, Sturgeon said the public would have an “opportunity to cast their verdict”.