By Bill Heaney

Businesses were legally required to sign up to the Scottish National Party-Green deposit return scheme this week.

But thousands of producers rightly decided not to, because the scheme is “an absolute shambles”, according to Tory leader Douglas Ross.

He told the Holyrood parliament “Lorna Slater, the minister in charge, said that just 664 businesses had registered, but she refused six times in the chamber yesterday to say how many businesses should have signed up.

“Will the First Minister give us that answer now—how many businesses should have signed up to her Government’s deposit return scheme?”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was in Secret Scotland mode yet again.

She said: “First, when a big change is introduced, it is understandable that there will be concerns about it. I have deep respect for the concerns that have been raised by business, and the Government will continue to work with business to address those concerns. They have rightly supported a deposit return scheme and have previously criticised the Government for taking too long to introduce one, so their [the Tories] opportunism in now indulging in knee-jerk opposition is frankly breathtaking.

“So, too—I will use a parliamentary term that I believe is polite enough—is the blatant distortion of some Opposition politicians. Yes, I am talking about Alister Jack in particular.

“To come back to the point—this is an important point—the number of companies in the drinks industry inevitably changes over time. At the outset of introducing the scheme, it was estimated that there were about 4,500 companies.

However, significantly fewer than that will have to register because, once groups of companies registering under one registration are identified, the estimated number of individual producers and importers will be less than 2,000. However, that is not actually the most relevant statistic. The most relevant statistic is the share of the market—the percentage of products that are included—and more than 90 per cent are now included in the scheme. 

“Finally, if I were to state that in the opposite way—if I were to stand here and say that 90 per cent of producers were registered but that that covered only about 20 per cent of the market—that would be a problem, because that would be a seriously problematic way of approaching this. We will continue to progress with the scheme because it is for the benefit of our environment, and we will do that responsibly, because that is what people across Scotland have a right to expect.” 

Douglas Ross hit back: “First Minister, when you are in a hole, stop digging. Surely, either you or some of your many, many officials watched Lorna Slater, pictured right,  being absolutely unable to answer a basic, but very important, question yesterday.

“We need to know how many businesses and producers the First Minister’s Government expected to sign up to the scheme, given that we know that only 664 did so by the deadline. It is a very simple number. Either the First Minister knows it but is refusing to tell members in the chamber, or she does not know, and I think that members deserve an answer.

“The First Minister says that she has “deep respect” for businesses across Scotland. Well, businesses are giving the Government a message, loud and clear: the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme is a complete disaster. The Scottish Wholesale Association said that it could be a “car crash”; UKHospitality Scotland says that the scheme is “flawed”; Innis & Gunn says that it is “unworkable”; and, last night, after listening to the minister’s statement, the Scottish Chambers of Commerce stated that businesses’ concerns have been “completely ignored”— a “car crash”, “flawed” and “unworkable”, with the voice of businesses across Scotland “ignored”.

“Even at this late stage, will the First Minister finally, just once, listen to Scottish businesses and pause the scheme?”

The First Minister showed Mr Ross, a soccer referee,  the yellow card: “The last time that the Government announced a delay to the scheme, necessitated by the pandemic, Conservatives were among the first to criticise it. That is what I mean when I talk about sheer opportunism and knee-jerk opposition. However, that is what we have come to expect from the Conservatives. We will continue to act responsibly.

“I come back to the central point in Douglas Ross’s question, because it is important. I gave him an answer in my first response, and I also pointed out that anyone who looks at this rationally will see that it is the number of bottles or the percentage of products that are covered that matters the most. The vast majority of products are produced by a relatively small number of producers. As of yesterday, more than 90 per cent of the market share was covered. That is the crucial point.  If it were the reverse, that would be a problem.

“We will continue to do as we have been doing. A range of concerns have already been responded to in order to reduce costs. Producer fees are 8 per cent, 30 per cent or 40 per cent lower than originally planned for glass, plastic or metal containers. Day 1 payments for producers have been reduced, and we will continue to liaise with business responsibly and sensibly.

Let us not lose sight of the central point, which is the scheme’s purpose and objectives. It will reduce littering by a third, increase recycling rates of single-use drinks containers towards 90 per cent and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 4 million tonnes over 25 years, which is the equivalent of taking 83,000 cars off the road. This is about the environment. It used to be the case that the Conservatives pretended to care about the environment, but it seems that those days are long gone.”

Douglas Ross added: “It is very clear that the First Minister is ignoring Scottish businesses again. She says that the opposition to the scheme and the calls to pause it are sheer political opportunism, so I would hate to be the health secretary sat next to her—there is going to be some more finger wagging coming in a minute.

“We know that Humza Yousaf, Ash Regan, pictured left, and Kate Forbes have all said that the deposit return scheme should be delayed—that is political opportunism at the heart of the Scottish Government.”

“Kate Forbes said that the deposit return scheme, which the First Minister has just defended over the past two questions, could create “economic carnage”—and that is, in fact, one of the more tame things that Kate Forbes has said about the SNP’s record. There is just one wee problem: Kate Forbes is the SNP’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy. The SNP’s record is Kate Forbes’s record.”

He added: “When the SNP Government was slow in paying out Covid grants to businesses, Kate Forbes was running the schemes; when companies demanded that the SNP reset its anti-business agenda, Kate Forbes was the minister who was not listening; and when the ferry scandal ran even further aground, Kate Forbes was fully on board.

The new Kate Forbes seems to be saying that the old Kate Forbes is not up to the job. So, I ask the First Minister: which one does she agree with—the Kate Forbes with a terrible record in government or the Kate Forbes who says that this Government has a terrible record?”

The First Minister: replied: “I said last week that Douglas Ross was seeming awful scared of Humza Yousaf. This week, it seems that he is also very scared of Kate Forbes, which says to me that whoever is standing here in my place in a few weeks’ time will keep the Conservatives firmly where they belong: in opposition in Scottish politics.

“To go back to the deposit return scheme, this Government—and I, for as long as I am First Minister—will continue to work to introduce sensible schemes that protect the interests of business but that also protect our environment, because we have a deep responsibility to do that.

“I also point out, again, that the introduction of a deposit return scheme is in no way unprecedented. Similar schemes are already operational in many countries and territories around the world. Indeed, I understand that some of the companies that are raising concerns—as they have a right to do here in Scotland—are part of the schemes in other countries around the world.

“I read in the newspaper today that the Conservative United Kingdom Government is about to announce its own scheme, perhaps as soon as tomorrow, which no doubt will have Douglas Ross squirming, as he often does when his colleagues in London make life difficult for him.

“We will continue to be responsible. We will liaise and engage with business, but we will also take steps to protect our environment and make sure that the cost of dealing with waste—which, of course, has to be met—is dealt with fairly. That is what this is all about.”


Douglas Ross may be used to hearing foul language in his role as a football referee and linesman.

Maybe that’s where he picked up the F-word he used when the spectators in the Scottish Parliament grandstand lost it during the debate on the controversial deposit return scheme.

The debate was abandoned immediately by the Presiding Officer without as much as a nod to AVR  and the MSPs trooped off to the Holyrood dressing room.

There was no question of an early bath for anyone or red card for Douglas Ross however. Why not? I got thrown out of the chambers at West Dunbartonshire Council for telling a press officer to bugger off.

On his return to the chamber, he said: “May I begin this question with an apology, Presiding Officer? It has been brought to my attention that I perhaps used industrial language in response to the protesters who interrupted the session earlier.

“To you, to members and to everyone listening—including, probably, my mother—I apologise for that. Christine Grahame [MSP]is asking what I said, but I promise that I will not repeat it. I just wanted to apologise to you, Presiding Officer, and to members.

“Let us get back to where we were. I was asking the First Minister about the leadership election and the SNP candidates, which the First Minister does not seem to want to talk about. That is no wonder, because the contest is an absolute bin fire.

“The SNP is so split and divided that it even tried to ban the media from watching the hustings. The only thing that unites the candidates who are seeking to replace Nicola Sturgeon is independence, and the candidates’ plans are even more reckless than Nicola Sturgeon’s de facto referendum.

“Last night, Kate Forbes revealed that she wants to hold a referendum just three months after the next general election—three months—when there are so many bigger issues facing the country. Kate Forbes thinks that a deposit return scheme would cause economic carnage but that holding another referendum to break up a 300-year-old union would be a breeze.

“Does the First Minister really think that anybody in Scotland will find Kate Forbes’s plans credible?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “What we found out in that question from Douglas Ross is that his so-called “roll” came to a crashing halt pretty quickly.

I will share some news with Douglas Ross, the chamber and, indeed, the country, although I am not sure that it will come as any surprise to the country.

“The SNP is united in favouring Scottish independence, and I think that we are going to see the country increasingly united behind independence as the best way to free ourselves from the impact of Tory Governments—or, indeed, from the impact of Labour Governments, which are often indistinguishable from Tory Governments—and be in charge of our own affairs and destiny, for example, by getting back into the European Union.

“I very much look forward to the vigour of that debate in the years to come. I am also confident that whoever stands here in my place in just a few weeks’ time will continue the SNP’s outstanding record of success.  

“Whoever stands here in my place will make sure that the SNP continues to occupy these benches and take forward decisions for the good of the people of Scotland, even when those are tough decisions. Douglas Ross and his colleagues will stay where they are.”

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