KENNY MacAskill has accused Nicola Sturgeon of dodging responsibility over a controversial ferry contract at the centre of a political storm.

The construction of two crucial ferries at Ferguson's shipyard in Port Glasgow for Scotland’s island  routes, operated by Calmac, should have cost £97 million but is now five years behind schedule and it is forecast the two vessels could now cost a total of £400 million.

Earlier this week, Audit Scotland published a scathing report on the procurement of the two new vessels. 

Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), the state-controlled firm that owns and procures CalMac’s ferries wanted to pull out of the contract weeks after the Ferguson's, led by tycoon Jim McColl, was named as the preferred bidder.

The First Minister said on Thursday “the buck stops with me” but moved to pin the blame for the fiasco on the disgraced Derek Mackay who was transport minister at the time of the deal being signed.

READ MORE: Derek Mackay on holiday when ferries deal signed puts new pressure on Sturgeon

However, it was reported today that Mr Mackay was on holiday when the deal was approved in August 2015 and that infrastructure secretary Keith Brown was asked to sign it off.

An internal memo which has surfaced does not say whether approval was given by Mr Brown, who is now justice secretary and the SNP's deputy leader.

Addressing the Alba Party conference in Hampden today, Mr MacAskill, a former SNP justice secretary, tore into the Scottish Government over the handling of the ferries contract, appearing to mock Ms Sturgeon.

"It seems a big boy did it and ran away," Mr MacAskill, the Alba deputy leader and an MP, pictured below, told party members.

"Now the big boy was apparently Derek Mackay but now it's been suggested in fact it was Keith Brown."

The Herald:

The first ship Glen Sannox was due to be delivered this summer but on Wednesday a further eight-month delay was confirmed.

Audit Scotland found that the contract was approved without normal financial safeguards - prompting warnings from CMAL - but it was unable to establish why the order was given to Ferguson's without such guarantees.

Mr MacAskill added: "Let's be quite clear who didn't do it. This was not the responsibility of CalMac, they didn't want these ships.

"This was not the responsibility of Jim McColl or indeed of the workforce at Fergusons as they were trying to build these ships of which the specifications were changing on an almost daily basis.

"The blame for this rests with CMAL and with the Scottish Government who appoint and wholly own CMAL. They are the ones who have to accept responsibility for this and it is at the present stage a disaster because we have tenders for ships that should be built on the last yard on the lower Clyde going to Turkey or elsewhere. 

The Herald:

Economy Secretary Derek Mackay visiting Ferguson Marine shipyard to give an update to the workforce following a Scottish Government takeover last month on October 07, 2019 in Port Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Jamie Simpson/Herald & Times)

"We have island communities that are not just struggling to get a service, some are for days or weeks on end bereft of a service. That is simply not good enough."

Mr MacAskill also attacked the Scotwind auction, saying the Scottish Government had leased the country's seabed for a considerably lower price than it could have got.

"The real issue is, 'how is energy rich Scotland so fuel poor?'" he asked. "Just a few months ago we had the great Scotwind auction. The First Minister, the transport secretary have waxed lyrical about the benefits."

He said rather than putting a reserve price on the seabed plots, the Scottish Government had capped the price, meaning higher offers could not be made.

"They just managed to get £700 million," he said: "But a few weeks later the United States of America had an auction area just off Long Island in which they put up for auction a quarter of what we put up for auction in the North Sea and around.

"And you know what they got in America? They didn't cap it. They allowed people to bid as much as they wanted. And so in America they got $4.37 billion dollars...for a quarter of what we got in Scotland. That isn't just shameful, that is criminal."

Mr MacAskill also rounded on the Tories as he opened his speech to the Alba Party conference this afternoon.

"It's been a while since we met, but sadly the situation is worsening," he said.
"Our county continues to be under the yoke of a government it did not elect, a party that has not been in elected before even I was born."

But he quickly turned his criticism to the SNP, who have been promising to deliver a second independence referendum since the Brexit vote in 2016, he added: "And those who have been charged and given a mandate to change our constitutional situation and who have been given the elected responsibility of standing up and protecting our people have failed to do so.

"So we do have to have constitutional change but we also have to have political accountability. As well as addressing the sins at Westminster of which there are far too many for me to name, we have to address those who are failing to deliver, and yet are in a position to protect us."