You see, while it’s obvious the SNP doesn’t know how to build a ferry, they’re pretty good at throwing theirs under a bus.
Let me take you back to a time when the words ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ described a Liberal Democrat, Scottish Labor needed a bus not a unicycle to transport its MPs, and Sepp Blatter ruled world football . The year is 2015.
The Ferguson Marine shipyard on the Clyde is in trouble. Picked up by self-made billionaire and pro-independence supporter Jim McColl, in what was seen as a favor to his close friend Alex Salmond just before the 2014 referendum, he needs orders. The Isle of Arran needs new ferries. And a few days before their conference in Aberdeen, the SNP needs an announcement.
Miraculously, these needs, desires and issues line up perfectly, as the planets are said to do. This allows then-SNP Transport Minister Derek Mackay to triumphantly announce to cheering delegates that, as he spoke, a contract worth £97m was being signed to keep Ferguson Marine opened and delivered two ferries to Arran. The tears of the faithful could have made their pastel flow.
Ferguson Shipyard: “Keith Brown has signed a shipping contract as part of a propaganda exercise…
Just two years later, a ship slipped on the slipway with the latest innovation – painted on the windows. It wasn’t over. It’s still not the case, either, seven years later and, although the sign hasn’t been lifted on either, the price has, running between 250 and 400 million pounds.
Now Mr McColl says the contracts were rushed for ‘political reasons’. Well, blow me with a feather – or paint over the windows and call me a ferry – who would have thought?
That’s when you can hear the noise of the bus. What Mr McColl says is untrue, according to Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who praised him and the deal at the time.
It’s not factual, says Finance Secretary Kate Forbes who, while distancing herself from the case saying it happened years before she was near Holyrood, accuses Mr McColl of have a “direct interest” and therefore his opinions should be ignored.
Couldn’t a finance secretary presiding over one of the greatest wastes of Scottish taxpayers’ money in modern history be similarly accused of having a ‘direct interest’ and therefore also be sacked?
Who to believe now? One of the most successful Scottish entrepreneurs of our time or members of a government with no business experience? Whoever you choose, we can all agree that Mr McColl won’t be asked to take a selfie in front of the Bute House saltiers anytime soon.
I remember well, in 2014, that Mr McColl was the biggest proponent of independence from business, standing rather incongruously on Yes campaign platforms, rubbing shoulders with personalities left-wing anti-growth like Patrick Harvie. He was essential to a cause that lacked credibility with the creators of wealth. How quickly it was forgotten by his old friends.
There are other bumps the bus can crash into, and current ministers should take note of road fatalities. Derek Mackay has already been tipped as the Prime Minister’s successor. He was his most dedicated and loyal supporter. Now he languishes in obscurity and has been accused of signing the flawed contracts with Ferguson by the SNP leadership – but it turns out he was on holiday at the time. A handy scapegoat turned out to have a strong alibi.
The SNP leadership has a habit of exposing the clay feet of its friends and showering them liberally. We need only think of the Prime Minister’s “mentor”. His best political friend. The man she said didn’t have ‘sexist bones in his body’ – Alex Salmond. Now she can’t even whisper his name without stopping the conversation to remember his victims, even though she hasn’t noticed anything untoward about him in all these years of close partnership.
Old alliances are so easily forgotten by the top brass of the SNP that the French should start to worry. It is a product of their “reverse government” approach. Most jurisdictions start with a policy, then find funding, and then issue a press release announcing their plans.
The SNP seems to do the opposite. They start with a press release, try to find the funding, then try to design a suitable policy. For example, Scotland was promised a national energy company at the SNP party conference, but none was ever established. Free iPads for underprivileged children get lost in the mail. Thousands of “green” jobs are advertised but never created.
Part of it works for them, to be fair. Just last week, the Prime Minister’s odd-job man, Patrick Harvie, told Newsnight viewers that all Scottish electricity comes from renewables, when that simply isn’t true.
Given the way she behaved towards some of her closest ‘friends’, Mr Harvie would do well to remember that the Prime Minister could snatch her key to the box of vegan treats as brutally as she wishes.
Mr. McColl, once the headliner of the Yes campaign, tells us today that he no longer believes in the cause of independence. Given the way he was treated by this SNP government, this turnaround should come as no surprise. He won’t be the only one whose experience with the prime minister and his cronies has led them to the same conclusion.
An English playwright, no longer required to be taught in our schools, once wrote: “Neither a borrower nor a lender be. He could have added: “Especially in the SNP.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife