Reading reports – and there are many – about the hash the SNP government is making of Scotland’s ferry services, I am always reminded from this line from JP Donleavy’s best-selling novel, The Ginger Man:

There was a man who built a boat to sail away — and it sank

Unlike Helen of Troy, the Greek warrior we were all told about at school, Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have a face that sunk a thousand ships (only sometimes when that wee nippy bit that she has in her for folk who needle her emerges.

That’s usually folk like the Tory leader Douglas Ross and Labour’s health spokesperson Jackie Baillie.

Nicola is already £150 million or so down after taking disgraced finance minister Derek Mackay’s advice a couple of years ago to nationalise the Firth of Clyde shipyard once owned by Ferguson Marine of Port Glasgow.

And to leave the MacBrayne ferries half-built and rusting on the stocks there.

At least she made Mackay walk the plank – although the public continued to pay his wages – even if it was on the eve of the Scottish Budget that he jumped ship and then failed to turn up to deliver the SNP’s recipe for economic revival.

That opened the gangway for the new finance secretary, Katie  Forbes, to climb up the political companionway to the Holyrood bridge.

There was talk at the time that after she baulked when then Transport Minister Graeme Dey told her that the Port Glasgow project was going to cost the government around a £billion she arranged for him to be keel-hauled.

And Graeme “disappeared” in the bowels of that Greek sugar ship The Captayanis which too has been sitting rusting off Helensburgh for Lord knows how many years now.

There is talk of a ferry being named after Katie for what she did – NIPPY MARK II.

Just when Nicola thought her propaganda pirates had slung that one over the side, a row has broken out after a Turkish shipyard was named as the preferred bidder to build two new ferries to serve Islay and Jura.

Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) intends to award the contract to Cemre Marin Endustri, with delivery of the first vessel expected in 2024 and the second in 2025.

There were no Scottish yards in the bidding process, with two Turkish, one Romanian and one Polish company submitting bids.

Labour MSP Paul Sweeney, pictured right,  said: “It’s a disgrace that a Turkish shipbuilder has today been recommended for a £110 million contract for the two new Islay ferries. No Scottish or UK yard made the final shortlist, despite compliant bids. This tender process should be scrapped and restarted.”

Red faces all round then for Nicola and her motley crew made worse by the fact that opposition politicians have criticised the fact that manufacturing will take place abroad.

Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth, who has been dubbed the new Ferry Queen,  said: “I’m very pleased to see CMAL name the preferred bidder for this vital project, which will see two new ferries built to serve the Islay routes.

“These links are some of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network and the new vessels will help to grow the island’s economy, as well as bring added resilience to the fleet.

“This underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to bringing in new ferries to support our island communities. We want to continue to see progress on bringing vessels into service on time and budget.

“We look forward to continuing to work with key stakeholders to develop programmes for major vessels and small vessels – investing at least £580 million as part of our Infrastructure Investment Plan.”

Jim Anderson, director of vessels at CMAL said: “Identifying a preferred bidder is a big step forward in the project to provide new vessels for Islay and Jura.

“All four shipyards submitted compelling bids, but with robust assessment of technical and financial criteria, Cemre Marin Endustri was the winner.

“We will now enter a 10-day standstill period before finalising the contract, at which point we will work closely with the yard to move on to the next stage of the procurement.”

Alba Party Inverclyde Councillor Chris McEleny said: “That publicly owned Ferguson’s was previously excluded from bidding to build ferries that are owned by the Scottish Government and operated on behalf of the Scottish Government was outrageous.

“To now announce they will be built in Turkey without listing what the benefits will be to our local communities is a complete betrayal of the people that live and work here.

“Perhaps the Government Minister never mentioned the benefits this contract would bring because Ms Gilruth knows how embarrassing it would be to pretend that ships built in Turkey will provide economic, employment or training opportunities to people in Inverclyde.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Graham Simpson said: “This is an embarrassment for the SNP. “Their government-run yard at Port Glasgow is in no fit state to be considered for this contract.

“The two ferries being built there are nowhere near finished.  It would come as no surprise if the Turkish yard completed these very welcome new vessels for Islay before anything leaves Ferguson Marine.

“The award is good news for islanders who will have a degree of confidence that they might actually see new ferries at the end of it.”

One of the Port Glasgow ferries, the Glen Sannox, still under construction and the sugar ship Captayanis, a sunken wreck in the Firth of Clyde for many years. Top of page: Jenny Gilruth, parliament’s new Transport Minister.


  1. Well the decision to build these ships in faraway Turkey will no doubt be a very welcome decision for all those opposition politico’s who bitterly criticised the SNP government for awarding two ship contracts to Fergusson Marine.

    So they’ve not made the same mistake twice. The public outrage and wasted costs of the Fergusson Marine ferry fiasco is not going to be repeated. These latest ferries will be built abroad and shame on the Scottish Government for previously trying to keep people in a job at Fergusson’s.

    The outrage of the public and opposition politicians has been well taken on board. There are better, more deserving places to build ships.

    Well done the complainers!

  2. In the current climate could the Scottish Government not picked up a couple of impounded Oligarch super yachts for repurposing to the Calmac Scottish islands services.

    There’s certainly a few about right now.

    Wouldn’t be surprised either if there’s a few Scottish Estates going spare too.

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