DOUGLAS Ross was accused of “making up” statements from the First Minister as the two clashed over the ongoing ferry debacle.

Speaking at FMQs on Thursday, the Scottish Tory leader said there was a “stench of political corruption” around the contract which saw Ferguson Marine – a shipyard formerly owned by Monaco-based billionaire Jim McColl – tasked with building two ferries.

In 2015, the Port Glasgow yard won a £97 million contract to build hull 801 (also known as the MV Glen Sannox) and hull 802. However, the budget has since skyrocketed to more than twice the original cost, with delay upon delay meaning the second ferry may be six years behind schedule.

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A BBC report earlier in the week found that Ferguson Marine may have been given preferential treatment during the tendering process, leading Nicola Sturgeon to ask Audit Scotland to “look at the substance of the allegations”.

Highlighting the issue at FMQs, Scottish Tory leader Ross (below) suggested that the contract had been awarded to Ferguson Marine because it had been “owned by an SNP government economic adviser and a prominent independence supporter”.

The National: Holyrood TVHolyrood TV (Image: Holyrood TV)

He went on: “[Sturgeon’s] government agreed a deal for the ferries without agreeing a design for the ships. Her government ignored experts who advised not to go ahead with the deal. Her government waived a refund guarantee that is a mandatory requirement on these kind of contracts, and now it appears that the whole deal was rigged.

“The Government seems to have given special treatment to a political adviser and ally and there is a stench of political corruption.

“Just what happened to the First Minister who used to have a monthly photocall at Ferguson Shipyard. The First Minister who used to pose for pictures at the yard and shout it from the rooftops that it was one of her proudest achievements?”

In response, Sturgeon (below) said that Ross had been “reduced to simply standing up and making up things that I’ve said”.

The National: Holyrood TVHolyrood TV (Image: Holyrood TV)

“I will never apologise for actions that this government has taken to save the jobs of the people who work in Ferguson’s Shipyard,” she added.

With the two ferries already over budget and behind schedule, the Scottish Government was forced to nationalise the shipyard in 2019 to save the some 350 jobs of workers at the site.

The First Minister further said that the Scottish Tory boss should “make his mind up on what his allegations actually are”.

She went on: “For months now Douglas Ross appears to have alleged, in this chamber and elsewhere – wrongly I hasten to add – that Scottish ministers directed, forced CMAL to award this contract to Ferguson Shipyard.

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“Today, it appears to be the case that Douglas Ross is alleging that CMAL in some way collaborated with Ferguson to ensure that contract went to that shipyard. So perhaps Douglas Ross just needs to get a little bit of clarity about the allegations he is making.”

However, CMAL – a public corporation of the Scottish Government which owns and manages ferries and other assets – was not implicated in the allegations of a document handed to Ferguson Marine which Ross described as a “424-page cheat sheet on how to build ferries”.

Acknowledging this, Sturgeon said: “As I understand it there is no suggestion at all that it was CMAL that passed that document to Fergusons. In fact I think the BBC suggested that was a design consultant.”

The First Minister turned the tables on the Tory leader at the end of the clash, asking why he had demanded she follow tax cuts for the wealthy, brought in by the UK Government, which have led to the collapse of the value of the pound.

“I’m not sure Conservative Douglas Ross is on very strong ground at all today in talking about government disasters,” she said.

Sturgeon highlighted how the Tories had demanded “that I match Tory tax cuts for the richest people in our society”, going on: “Tax cuts that have already sunk the pound, crashed the mortgage market, brought people’s pensions to the brink of collapse, forced the Bank of England into an emergency bailout, tax cuts that will force deep reductions in public spending.

“I think people might have wanted to hear Douglas Ross today explain why he thinks the Scottish Government should emulate these policies.”

READ MORE: One CalMac ferry delayed again as yard estimates final cost to taxpayer

Ross also raised a letter, sent by Ferguson Marine to Holyrood transport committee chair Edward Mountain on Wednesday, which outlined the total expected costs for the two ferries.

In the letter, the shipyard said costs for the first ferry, hull 801, are not expected to exceed £101m, while the 802 should not cost more than £108.6m – for a total of £209.6m.

This is lower than Audit Scotland’s predicted total cost of the project, forecast in March this year, of “at least £240m”, but £112.6m higher than the initial £97m fixed price contract awarded to CalMac.

Furthermore, the second 802 hull was pushed back into 2024, meaning it will be six years late on delivery, while 801 was said to be expected to be delivered before May 2023.