Humza Yousaf fails first test in assembling Cabinet and faces another over Scottish Green minister Lorna Slater and deposit return scheme – Scotsman comment

As Humza Yousaf assembles his new Cabinet, he faces the first test of his abilities as a leader.

He has already failed on one count. By offering leadership rival Kate Forbes a post she was bound to turn down – rural affairs – he has shown he is not interested in assembling a ‘government of all the talents’. The government is not blessed with sufficient talent to waste Forbes.

Next, given the state of the NHS, a key appointment will be Health Secretary. After his near-two-year stint in the job failed to reverse the health service's decline – as evidenced by a new survey which found public satisfaction at its lowest-ever level – the new First Minister needs a capable politician with sufficient dynamism to turn things around.

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His attitude towards the seemingly doomed deposit return scheme (DRS) for bottles and cans will also provide another early indicator of how much competence matters to Yousaf. The Scottish Government insists the scheme will go ahead this August, even though the UK Government could still refuse the necessary exemption from the UK Internal Market Act.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack recently told MPs the scheme was badly designed and added: “The exemption bar is very high indeed, otherwise what is the point of the UK internal market?” So Scottish businesses may face considerable expense for nothing.

This raises questions about whether the person in charge, Scottish Green co-leader and circular economy minister Lorna Slater, is fit for office. Evidence given by David Harris, chief executive of Circularity Scotland (CSL), the firm administering DRS, adds to growing suggestions she is not. He told MSPs they had “made it clear” during their application to run DRS that it would not be ready by the then target date of July 2022. CSL was appointed in March 2021, but it wasn't until December that year that the delay until this August was announced.

It may be politically difficult for Yousaf to sack Slater and even harder for him to accept that a UK-wide DRS would be simpler and more effective. However, any leader worthy of the name should prioritise what is right for the country – in this case, enabling the creation of a functioning deposit return scheme, with its associated benefits – over the merely politically expedient. In the next few days, we should learn a lot about Scotland’s new First Minister.



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