The First Minister has said she will not say sorry for decisions made around the ferry fiasco contract while denying allegations by tycoon Jim McColl that she had lied over jobs saved.

The First Minister has previously called Jim McColl, the former owner of the beleaguered Ferguson Marine shipyard “disingenuous in the extreme” over his claims in an interview that the nationalisation of the yard was rushed through for the political benefit of the SNP.

In a radio interview Ms Sturgeon indicated that without the deal for the Glen Sannox and Hull 802 vessels the Port Glasgow yard would have shut and 400 jobs would have been lost.

But Mr McColl disputed the SNP leader’s claim that Ferguson's would have closed without the contract for two CalMac ferries and her estimate of how many jobs were saved by the contract.

READ MORE: Ferguson Marine: Ex-justice secretary demands full judge-led ferry fiasco public inquiry

“At the time there were 150 employees, not 400. I think she was a bit rattled in the interview and she mixed it up with the statement that they made about saving the yard," he said.

Mr McColl has previously said the contract was rushed through for political reasons in 2015 due to the SNP conference, something the Scottish Government strongly denies.

Scotland's lifeline ferry fiasco features the ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 which are still languishing in the now state-owned Ferguson Marine shipyard, with costs of their construction reaching at least £250m, while their delivery is at least over five years late.

Calls have since been made for a judge-led public inquiry to the 'transparency obstacles' faced by public finance auditors over why ministers took on the financial risk of the calamitous ferry contract.

Audit Scotland has previously expressed "frustration" to MSPs over a failure to provide the key information over why ministers decided to proceed with awarding the controversial £97m order to Ferguson Marine without mandatory full refund guarantees from the shipbuilder.


But Nicola Sturgeon has previously denied there was a Government "cover-up" over missing documents and said that "anybody can go on to the Scottish Government website and see the sheer quantum of paperwork and recording of decisions around this issue.”

In the years since the contract was awarded, the yard was nationalised after it went into administration at the end of 2019 as the costs of the stricken ferries escalated.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross asked whether the First Minister understood how angry the public is when she uses “weasel words like regrettable” instead of apologising as a quarter of a billion of taxpayer’s money has spent “and not a single ferry built”.

"The crucial document detailing why this awful decision was made has disappeared. But all we hear from Nicola Sturgeon is this is regrettable. Regrettable," he said.

"First Minister, when you suggest chopping off the bottom of classroom doors, that was regrettable, wasting quarter of a billion pounds is much, much worse.

"Do you understand how angry it makes the public to hear you use weasel words like regrettable rather than giving them the apology they deserve?"

But Nicola Sturgeon was offering no regrets.

"On the issue of ferries, I've made very clear that the delays, the cost overruns are deeply regrettable and I believe that when things don't go right in government, it is important that leaders say so," she said.

"If only other governments followed the same principle, perhaps things might be a bit different, but I will not and I am afraid I'm not going to be moved from this, I will not apologise for decisions that allowed the last commercial shipbuilder on the Clyde to continue in business that allows 400 workers to be employed there today, earning a wage, supporting their families and I will not apologise for investment in new ferries, because the yard and the government is focused on ensuring that these ferries are completed as part of an overall investment in Scotland's ferry networks.


"I'll always take responsibility when things don't go right but I'll continue to act in a way that is in the interest of this country overall."

But Mr Ross said referred to Mr McColl saying there was no danger of the yard going under without the awarding of the contract.

"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," said Mr Ross.

"The man who this SNP government trusted to save the yard who Nicola Sturgeon stood next to and said this was the man to turn it round says the jobs at Ferguson Marine were safe no matter what, because the yard had other strong contracts."

" Her only justification for charging ahead against expert advice has been grandstanding that she saved the jobs. Now it has emerged she didn't. The jobs were never at risk. First Minister, hasn't your main excuse, just being shredded? Perhaps like that vital missing document?"

But the First Minister said she "categorically" and "100%" stood by what she said and said that Mr McCollwas not a "disinterested objective observer on these matters".

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

"And secondly, that the yard would not have been in jeopardy would not have potentially closed, had that contract not been awarded. Now that 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, then all I can say is that is not the Jim McColl I know. People can make up their own minds.

"What I know is that the decisions this government took have ensured that the shipyard is still open, operating today, focusing yes on delivering those ferries. And today there are 400 people working in that yard, 400 people earning a wage supporting the families as I say, and I think for all that the delays to the ferries, the overruns to the ferries are deeply regrettable, O do not regret the fact that there are 400 people employed in that shipyard today."

The businessman also said his company had been clear with the government from the start about the lack of a cash refund guarantee.

Mr McColl, owner of Clyde Blowers Capital, sat on the SNP Scottish Government’s Council of Economic Advisers until the body was replaced in July, last year.

Its replacement is the Advisory Council to the National Strategy on Economic Transformation and Mr McColl is not on the list of business leaders, academics and economists who are part of their expert panel.