IT'S not going to end well. It rarely does when politicians get a little too close to businessmen – their interests inevitably conflict and that leads to claims of cronyism, favouritism or corruption.

Not there there is any hint of corrupt behaviour in the stushie over the Ferguson Marine shipyard, in Port Glasgow, currently controlled by Nicola Sturgeon's economic adviser, billionaire Jim McColl of Clyde Blowers, and headed for nationalisation tomorrow. No – this is a story of good old-fashioned contractual cock-up lubricated by £45million in public funds.

In 2014, state-owned CalMac ferry company needed a couple of ferries – something state-of-the-art and sustainable, not that car ferries can ever be particularly green. With much fanfare, Mr McColl stepped in to deliver them, and help revive Scottish shipbuilding. But, as with many public procurement contracts, no one seemed to know who was liable for cost overruns. These were probably inevitable, since the new ferries involved untried duel-fuel propulsion.

READ MORE: Scots face paying out millions to nationalise shipyard

Shades of the Scottish Parliament building. The cost escalates. The government slips Ferguson £45million in loans, skirting carefully around the EU's rules against bailing out loss-making companies. The cost continues to escalate to twice the original £97million. Enter the lawyers who dig in for a long and lucrative dispute over what the original contract meant.

But money can't wait. Ferguson Marine is effectively bankrupt, and headed for administration. So the finance minister, Derek Mackay, worried about that £45million of public money, has decided to nationalise the company on Thursday. This will save 300 jobs, ministerial embarrassment and, hopefully, CalMac's West Coast ferry services.

In so doing, Mr Mackay will add to the Scottish Government's growing portfolio of nationalised industries, which now includes Prestwick Airport, which it bought for a pound six years ago, bits of the BiFab construction plant in Fife, and of course CalMac itself.

When economists and politicians talk about an industrial strategy, and setting up a national infrastructure investment company, this isn't quite what they had in mind. It looks more like a national basket case of insolvent, fragmented and unsaleable companies. Public money will very likely evaporate as the two state-owned companies – Ferguson and CalMac – divvy up the losses and hide them under their respective carpets.

I'm not saying Derek Mackay should have let Ferguson go bust. That would have meant the loss of the entire contract, and probably the ferries, since no private company wants to touch Ferguson with the proverbial barge poll. The Scottish Government has responsibilities to the folk of Arran and the Uig triangle who depend on the ferries. But whatever the merits of state ownership, an idea which is back in fashion, it is not an ideal solution here.

Nationalisation may technically get round EU competition rules, which contrary to popular belief, do not make it illegal to take industries into public ownership. But the legal dispute will go on for months, years even. Ferguson will not be able to bid for new contracts while the government is pumping money into it. It will have to be careful not to open the way to legal actions under EU law from other companies who lost out in 2014.

READ MORE: Letters: Ferguson Marine drama is yet another example of Scotland’s total lack of industrial strategy

The legal situation is imponderable, especially given Brexit. But the “optics”, as we hacks like to put it, look all too clear. Jim McColl was one of the few big businessmen prepared to back independence back in 2014. It will inevitably be claimed, in the parliamentary inquiry that seems likely to follow this episode, that in some way the Scottish Government was helping out one of its mates.

Not that Mr McColl is happy with his treatment by Nicola Sturgeon – far from it. He is incandescent, and accusing the Scottish Government of industrial sabotage, and “abuse of power”. He is adamant that the business in which he sunk tens of millions will languish under state control until it is quietly disposed of when the political heat dissipates. That is all too often what happens when governments intervene at the last minute to rescue failing companies.

The GMB union and the STUC believe that the Scottish Government should make a virtue of necessity and create a state-owned infrastructure company including Prestwick, the recently-closed St Rollox engineering site in Springburn, Bifab, CalMac, and presumably, ultimately ScotRail. It's an attractive idea also developed by the independence-supporting The Common Weal think tank. The assumption that only the private sector can deliver “wealth creating industry” is under challenge across the world. And rightly so when we see what happened to the UK railway industry after privatisation.

However, it's not clear that these bits and pieces could create a viable company, even if the Scottish Government acquires the legal powers to press ahead with comprehensive nationalisation. The danger is that they become zombie companies run by bureaucrats who have no particular stake in their success or failure, since their jobs don't depend on it.

It could also be putting the cart before the horse. What is really needed, first of all, is secure financing from a state-backed investment vehicle, as The Common Weal and others have long advocated. Next year, the Scottish Government will be setting up the National Investment Bank with a dowry of £2billion over 10 years. Ferguson Marine could be its first big customer, and could make or break the initiative.

READ MORE: Ferguson Marine shipyard warns it is on brink of administration

With its environmental remit, Ferguson Marine certainly looks like the kind of company that could benefit from long-term, “mission-oriented” finance. With skilled management, and secure funding, it could have a bright future, in public or private hands. There is a demand for ferries, not least in Scotland where much of the CalMac fleet is needing replacement. The skills are there, and Mr McColl has been praised for delivering on promises of developing apprenticeships at Ferguson.

Small countries like Norway and Finland have viable civilian ship-building industries, so there is no reason why Scotland could not do likewise. The SNP will of course argue that those countries have the economic powers of independence that Scotland lacks. But Scotland also has a great tradition of ship-building. That all came to grief with Upper Clyde Shipbuilders after the heroic work-in half a century ago. Ferguson will need some of that positive energy if it is to succeed commercially where UCS failed.