DOUGLAS Ross was told to “check the record” during an angry clash with Alex Salmond as he attempted to pin the blame for the ferry fiasco on the former first minister.

The Scottish Conservative leader later grilled Salmond on his record in government during a meeting of the Scottish Affairs Committee and claimed he had agreed contracts for the construction of two ferries, which remain the subject of intense controversy because of significant and costly delays.

But Salmond hit back, denying he had any role in awarding the contracts to the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow.

Contracts for the two ferries were awarded in August 2015, nearly a year after Salmond stepped down as first minister. The yard was formally nationalised in December 2019.

Ross also criticised Salmond for his government’s record on education and drug deaths, saying Scotland had slipped down the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) rankings in key subjects during Salmond’s time at the helm.

He said: “Education, in Pisa rankings in reading, maths and science fell throughout your time as first minister. Drug deaths increased from 2007 to 2014 and, of course, you agreed the contracts to build two ferries that still aren’t servicing the islands they were supposed to work for. Is that the type of delivery that you think should be celebrated?”

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Salmond replied: “Just on the third one, I had no part or agreement on the contracts for the ferries, you can check the record.”

The National: Douglas Ross

Ross (above) then asked Salmond whether he had had any part in the nationalisation of the Ferguson Marine yard, to which the Alba Party leader replied: “I was involved in saving the yard and a private business took over the yard. The nationalisation of the yard was four years later.”

Salmond earlier said he had been involved in “saving” the yard but denied having any role in the award of the two ferry contracts to the yard, which was then under the ownership of Jim McColl.

The businessman was at the time friendly with the SNP administration in Holyrood, though relations soured over the projects’ delays and inflated costs.  

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Salmond said: “The saving of the Ferguson yard took place in August, September 2014 […] just before the referendum, yeah. I left office in November 2014. I promise you the two ferry contracts, I mean I don’t know where they were in the ether but they certainly weren’t anywhere near the civil service. They were negotiated sometime after I left office.”

The National: Alex Salmond

Elsewhere in the session, Salmond (above) said he had been surprised to see senior SNP figures saying it had been Scottish Government policy to delete WhatsApp messages.

Salmond admitted he had not used WhatsApp during his time in office, but claimed to have conducted all his official communication as first minister through his private office.