Jim McColl, the former owner of the Ferguson Marine shipyard, has said Nicola Sturgeon’s claim it would close without the contract for two CalMac ferries was “a lie”.

The businessman also disputed the First Minister’s claim about how many jobs were saved by the contract for the ferries – Glen Sannox and Hull 802 – which are now overdue and over budget.

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

Mr McColl spoke to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme on Tuesday.

It was put to him that the First Minister had said on Monday the yard would have closed and 400 jobs would have been lost if a different decision had been taken.

He said: “That’s a lie. 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.”

HeraldScotland:

Jim McColl and Nicola Sturgeon

The shipyard in Port Glasgow was eventually brought into public ownership in 2019.

When it was suggested to Mr McColl that calling her statement a lie was “very strong words”, he said: “Well, it’s not true”.

Mr McColl continued: “The yard had outstanding work.

“It was still working on the ferry Katrina which wasn’t launched until 2016 and was delivered early and on budget.

“It also had additional construction work, fabrication work, so there was no danger of the yard going under at that time.

“That was a slip by the First Minister in the interview.”

Mr McColl then admitted he had made a mistake himself in an earlier interview with Good Morning Scotland.

He had initially claimed he had not signed the contract for the ferries, but documents bearing his signature were produced which showed this was not the case.

HeraldScotland:

The Glen Sannox at Ferguson Marine

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

It is now estimated that the two CalMac vessels will not be completed until 2023 at a cost of £250 million, more than twice the original budget.

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 2021.

HeraldScotland:

Responding to Mr McColl’s comments, Scottish Conservative MSP, Graham Simpson, said his claims about the refund guarantee were “devastating”.

Mr Simpson said: “The First Minister’s only defence for her Government’s reckless decision to award the contract to Ferguson Marine has been that it saved the jobs of 400 staff at the yard.

“But Mr McColl has driven a coach and horses through that claim by insisting that there were only 150 staff at the time and that the yard had enough work to remain viable even if it hadn’t been awarded the contract to build the two CalMac ferries.

“This scandal gets murkier by the day. It’s essential a full, independent inquiry is set up to get to the bottom of it.”

Lib Dem MSP, Willie Rennie, said: “Jim McColl’s business expertise is beyond doubt and that was recognised by the SNP who courted him for years.

“His anger at the treatment from the SNP is palpable.

“Nicola Sturgeon will do anything, say anything and ditch anyone to protect the SNP.”