I’ll be honest, it’s not often that I sit down to watch a First Minister speak with any great sense of anticipation – but Humza Yousaf’s first major address to the Scottish Parliament since becoming First Minister promised to bring some fireworks. And, to be fair, he didn’t let us down. Well, not entirely.
Nicola Sturgeon didn’t always enjoy a comfortable relationship with Scotland’s business community, often putting her political ambitions before reality as part of her drive to fast-track Scotland to ‘progressive nation’ status, another little New Zealand if you like.
So, it was very encouraging to hear the new FM talk at some length and with some passion about his desire to reboot the government’s relationship with business. And, even more encouraging, he followed the conciliatory platitudes with some eminently sensible concrete announcements. The alcohol advertising and display proposals were being sent firmly back to the drawing board and, just as significantly, DRS was getting bumped back once more, this time until March next year.
So, on the face of it, Yousaf has achieved some quick wins and succeeded in at least beginning the process of building some bridges with Scotland’s business community. In the specific case of DRS, however, the initial euphoria of hearing that the scheme had been pushed back by almost a year is very quickly replaced by one simple thought: is the postponement long enough?
As it stands today, there are still a raft of very serious and very complex unresolved issues around DRS and, with the best will in the world, it’s hard to see how all of these issues can be satisfactorily resolved between now and next March.
And what about all those local retailers who have already ordered RVMs and reworked their stores to make space? They did that in good faith, having been told time and again by Lorna Slater that, despite clear indications to the contrary, DRS would indeed go ahead in August this year. She was still saying it even after all three SNP leadership candidates stated that they would either postpone or amend it if they gained power.
Those conscientious retailers, then, have every right to be a bit disgruntled – and you can bet your last 20p that the Aldis and Tescos of this world who have been busy reworking their car parks and building huge recycling stations outside their stores won’t take this lying down.
The major concern remains that the FM’s decision turns out not be the panacea he presented it as, but just another sticking plaster that kicks the can further down the track. Don’t be entirely surprised if common sense eventually prevails and DRS gets postponed once more and launched in tandem and in harmony with the English system in 2025.
Antony Begley, Publishing Director, SLR