NICOLA Sturgeon has “categorically” denied “jobs for the boys” accusations over the awarding of troubled contracts to build CalMac ferries to a prominent independence supporter.

The First Minister was grilled by MSPs over the controversial decision to give Ferguson Marine the contract to build two ferries which are now due to be delivered more than five years late and two and a half times over budget.

Scottish tycoon Jim McColl, a high-profile independence supporter who was seen as close with former first minister Alex Salmond, bought the Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited (FMEL) yard in Port Glasgow a year before the CalMac contract was awarded.

Sharon Dowey, the Conservative deputy chair of Holyrood’s public audit committee, suggested McColl being awarded the contract was evidence of cronyism and a “jobs for the boys” attitude within the Scottish Government.

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Sturgeon refuted the claims in the strongest terms and said she was unaware of concerns raised by Caledonia Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) about the suitability of Ferguson Marine for the building.

Dowey asked: “Was there an interest from the Scottish Government to award the contract to FMEL, was it a kind of jobs for the boys? There’s obviously been talk of the relationship between the Scottish Government and Jim McColl.

“Was there an interest from the Scottish Government to award the contract.”

The First Minister suggested the “jobs for the boys” claim was a “pejorative” accusation and one she “completely and utterly” refuted.

She added that “as long as it’s all done by the book” all politicians would be happy to see Scottish contracts awarded to Scottish companies and preserve jobs.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly defended itself over the ferries fiasco saying that its actions – including eventually nationalising the yard – prevented the loss of hundreds of jobs in Inverclyde.

“If you are saying, was there anything untoward in this procurement process in order to somehow inappropriately steer this contract towards FMEL – absolutely not,” Sturgeon said.

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The First Minister reiterated her position on the public rescue of Ferguson Marine at the public audit committee on Friday, saying that nationalising the yard was the “only option” to prevent its closure in 2019.

A key issue in the ongoing story around the ferries is why the Scottish Government appeared to ignore concerns from senior civil servants about a clause in the contract which resulted in the state being financially responsible for delays to the project.

This has resulted in taxpayers having to foot the bill for the ballooning costs to the severely delayed project.

Former finance secretary Derek Mackay has taken responsibility for the decision to overrule CMAL officials who were concerned about the lack of a “builder’s refund guarantee” from FMEL, which would have insulated the government from the costs of delays and problems.

Tory MSP Craig Hoy called the process used to award the contract “dodgy” and “fishy” as he suggested the First Minister should quit her role over the fiasco, suggesting she had failed to be “transparent” with the public during the ferries saga.

He also referred to a “cheat sheet” revealed by the BBC which appeared to show that FMEL had been given insider information on how to secure the contract. Sturgeon said she was not aware of “impropriety” in the procurement process but that the Scottish Government was taking the allegations seriously.

“This is a monumental scandal First Minister and it happened on your watch,” he added.