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by Louise Wilson
10 December 2023
Sketch: Lorna Slater appreciates a good question

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Lorna Slater appreciates a good question

The Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee has many “interesting questions” about the Circular Economy Bill, the minister in charge of the legislation confirmed to its members. Repeatedly.

Indeed, Lorna Slater is basically handing out gold stars to each MSP on the committee for asking such great questions. They are scrutinising proposals, and they are doing it so well, she croons. And she is rewarding a job well done by handing out compliments like candy, but not handing out any answers.

Ben Macpherson was first to receive a Slater gold star. She told him she was “pleased with the question” on ensuring Scotland moves up the waste hierarchy. The answer to this excellent question will be forthcoming in a “route map” which will be published at some point in the future.

The thing about Mountain is that he’s polite. Extremely polite. And killing people with kindness is his MO

Slater is of course a big fan of the waste hierarchy. It places the emphasis on reusing junk no one wants. Despite calls made by several members of the opposition to recycle Slater, First Minister Humza Yousaf has instead backed her re-use mantra, again and again. She is perfectly good cannon fodder to take the heat off some of the SNP’s more pressing affairs...

Anyway, Slater is “really keen” for MSPs to be able to see the route map which will answer their questions. “We’ll get it to you as soon as we can get it to you,” she promises with all the confidence of a politician making a vague commitment. She might have only been a minister since 2021, but she’s perfected the art of not saying anything.

To be fair, it’s a skill she’s had to learn because of her history of answering questions, well, incorrectly. Take the next one from committee convener Edward Mountain. “Did you have a meeting with Amazon?” he wonders.

“I have not had a meeting with Amazon, no,” replies the minister.

Mountain, the face of innocence, looks perplexed. The thing about Mountain is that he’s polite. Extremely polite. And killing people with kindness is his MO. He points to an entry in the lobbying register suggesting such a meeting did take place – in October last year. “I’m surprised you say you didn’t have a meeting…”

“Convener, I correct myself. I’m trying to remember what I did,” Slater says, backpedaling furiously. “If the record says I did, then I did. I will have to go back and see those minutes, that was last year, and of course the convener will know I take many, many meetings.” She chuckles bashfully. Honestly, how can they expect her to remember what meetings she’s had with key stakeholders?

“If that is on the record, then we can find out what the minutes of that meeting were,” she offers. Mountain smirks. It wasn’t because he wanted to know about her meeting with Amazon, but simply because the committee would like to speak to them and perhaps she has a better ‘in’ with them. Tripping up the minister was simply an added bonus.

The committee moves on to talk about targets for achieving the circular economy. While the bill commits to making them, there is precisely zero detail on what they’d be. And Slater informs the MSPs that the process of doing so will be difficult because Scotland is on the “cutting edge”. Scotland is so far ahead that it has no idea what it is doing. It turned up for a marathon before the signposts were put up. But it’s definitely, definitely in the lead.

Surely, minister, you must have some idea, roughly, of what the targets might be, inquires Monica Lennon. Another good question. Slater reads out the text of the bill to the member in response, which she accepts does not include the “nitty-gritty” detail (or indeed any detail).

Lennon sighs. “What does good look like?” she asks. “That’s an interesting question,” Slater replies. Talk about circular.

The party recycled a man that was once SNP leader and turned him into the saviour of the indy movement

But one group who are big fans of the circular economy is the Alba Party. The party recycled a man that was once SNP leader and turned him into the saviour of the indy movement. The rest of Scotland might still consider him rubbish, but Alba members insist it is upcycling.

Days earlier they had also upcycled the SNP’s strategy for independence by suggesting that Scotland first has a referendum on whether it should have a referendum.

Launching the new initiative was the party’s only MSP, Ash Regan. She said it was “time for the independence movement to offer our supporters the real prospect of progress.” And of course, the idea for a referendum on a referendum was entirely her own idea – just like standing for SNP leadership was.

Even Alex Salmond said so. “Ash Regan’s move to Alba Party is a breath of fresh air in this parliament. This proposal can propel the independence movement forward and free it of its current inertia.”

And in case anyone was yet to be convinced, the former first minister revealed that “this is exactly the sort of initiative I would have taken”. Well, if it’s good enough for Salmond…

The key question is, does a referendum on a referendum warm up the independence thermometer and where should we stick it?

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