Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
Comment: The ferries fiasco is a cover-up in plain sight

Comment: The ferries fiasco is a cover-up in plain sight

Like in comedy, timing in politics is all, and so it was with remarkable irony that having already spent almost a week dodging questions about who signed off on a shambolic shipbuilding exercise (that should, in reality, be called out for the multi-million pound political corruption scandal that it really is) the Scottish Government launched a new Open Government Action Plan.

An ambitious initiative designed to boost transparency, accountability and understanding of how public finances work.

And given her verbal gymnastics and numerical obfuscations of the previous week, it’s a paper the first minister would be well advised to read herself.

But it was also perhaps the first minister’s own unique interpretation of her government’s responsibility for mistakes made in the granting of the ferry building contract and where blame lies, that the spin doctors had in mind when surely, with tongue firmly in cheek, they described the new Action Plan’s purpose of “strengthening public trust in our institutions, producing better public services and a better quality for life for everyone.”

When seven years on from a shipbuilding contract that has delivered no completed ferries, in which costs have soared from the original £97m to upwards of £250m and could go as high as £400m, that has left islanders literally high and dry, that we now know was signed in haste, without financial guarantees, and with the risks acutely spelled out, but went ahead regardless because it came with a political imperative that it could be announced at party conference, ‘public trust in our institutions’ is not exactly the phrase anyone other than Nicola Sturgeon is now reaching for.

And more than that, this whole sorry and unfinished saga, has revealed something of the darker underbelly of the SNP - a willingness to throw anyone, even their own friends and allies, under a bus just to avoid the blame.

We have a government that is indulging in a cover up in plain sight. And while I don’t know if that qualifies as an oxymoron, when you have a first minister reply to a straightforward question of whether she gave the nod to the ferry contract with the obtuse answer of “I didn’t say, ‘don’t go-ahead’”, then I’m not sure what else you would call it.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with former transport minister Derek Mackay Credit: Alamy

There are some political phrases that lodge in the brain as convenient signposts to a direction of travel that a government is going in and the double-speak from Sturgeon in and around this whole shoddy affair, suggests a rottenness at its core.

That after 15 years in power, there is an artifice about the SNP that is as obvious as the painted-on windows and the fake funnels that were slapped on an unfinished ferry just so Sturgeon could be pictured at its ‘launch’.

That was an emperor’s new clothes moment. An audacious photo opportunity that should have signaled that we are being treated for fools.

And in any normally functioning democracy the ferries scandal, just the latest in a long line of Scottish Government policy failures, doomed takeovers, and financial mismanagements, would have seen the SNP sunk.

But we don’t live in a normal democracy. We live in a Scotland where Labour's political hegemony has been replaced by the SNP’s. And right now, with a party that has taken full ownership of all-things ‘Scottish,’ and with an opposition that simply can’t beat them on that, no one can see an easy way out.

But 15 years on and with independence no nearer, with our public services in decline, our finances being treated in such a cavalier fashion, and with the SNP showing that their promised ‘new politics’ looks very like the old, it is perhaps no coincidence that the day that our trains came under state control was April 1st.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Post


Read the most recent article written by Mandy Rhodes - Editor's Column: A Return to the Dark Ages

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine

Stay in the know with our fortnightly magazine


Popular reads
Back to top