Deposit return scheme: UK Government has played into the hands of the SNP and Lorna Slater – Adam Morris

Scottish Green minister Lorna Slater once looked likely to be sacked over shambolic deposit return scheme

No wonder Lorna Slater has a spring in her step. The politics around her government’s shambolic deposit return scheme (DRS) have unexpectedly swung in her favour, and this afternoon’s stormy Scottish Parliament statement on the issue proved as much.

The project – to charge an extra 20p for all bottles which the customer then gets back upon return – has been riddled with problems since its conception. Businesses loathe it, the public think it’s bonkers, and even all three candidates for First Minister pledged to rip it up, to differing extents, during their recent leadership campaigns.

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It is one of the most ridiculed pieces of legislation in the history of devolution, one which will force traders to the wall, punish low-income families, and produce unbearable red tape for producers who’ve warned they simply won’t do business here anymore. But now there’s a constitutional edge to it, and a bedraggled Scottish Government can’t believe its luck.

The UK Government’s decision to insert itself into the story has given fresh impetus to Ms Slater, the minister for circular economy who was said to have been on the brink of the sack for her mismanagement of the scheme. Ministers in London, in an attempt to capitalise on these problems, have inadvertently breathed life into the grievance cadaver.

First, they threatened to block the scheme, now they have said it may proceed, but only on their terms. This is exactly where the Scottish Government wants things to be. In fact, it’s preferable even to the scheme being up and running with businesses and consumers cheerfully taking part.

It is better for the SNP-Green administration to stoke up cross-border animosity than to display competent governance, ludicrous though that may seem. The UK Government is well aware of this, but fell into the trap anyway. It should have left the Scottish Conservatives, who’ve had the nationalists over a barrel on this from the start, to manage the situation.

Instead, the move has allowed the SNP-Green coalition to abandon responsibility and revert to what it does best: say it’s all England’s fault and that’s why we need independence. The First Minister, Humza Yousaf, has changed his tune. He’s gone from wanting to “simplify and de-risk” DRS and “hearing the concerns of business” to accusing the UK of “sabotage”.

Pro-independence MSPs have rallied round embattled Green minister Lorna Slater (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Pro-independence MSPs have rallied round embattled Green minister Lorna Slater (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Pro-independence MSPs have rallied round embattled Green minister Lorna Slater (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

On national television on Sunday morning, Ms Slater said London had been “outrageous” and was “interfering with democracy in Scotland”. There was more of that bread-and-butter rhetoric on display this afternoon. These are gear changes that should never have been possible.

Perhaps UK ministers were encouraged by their well-received intervention on the gender reform row. There’s talk too of them muscling in on another farcical Green policy – the hated plans for highly protected marine areas (HPMAs), which would ban fishing from a further ten per cent of inshore waters.

But if there’s a lesson for the UK Government to take from this, it’s not to be dragged down to a level where the nationalists will always beat them. Earlier this year, a distressed Ms Slater rose to speak on DRS in parliament, and it was noted how the seats around her were empty. Not a single nationalist colleague wanted to be seen in shot while she struggled to justify the policy.

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The bad-tempered scenes today of desk-thumping and constitutional howls from an emboldened group shows this was the game the Scottish Government wanted to play all along.

Adam Morris is a former head of media for the Scottish Conservatives



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