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Sketch: Lorna Slater blames the UK Government

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Lorna Slater blames the UK Government

Lorna Slater is pure ragin’. When she was handed the circular economy portfolio back in 2021, as a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed new MSP, she figured deposit return would be an easy win. Everyone supported it. Businesses were on board. Seals would be saved. Hurrah.

But then those dastardly evil masterminds in the UK Government got involved.

And now here she is, taking questions from the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee about why she had to pause the scheme until 2025.

Her fellow Green MSP Mark Ruskell is incredibly sad about it. “Minister, you spoke about moving forward with a spirit of collaboration,” he says, morosely. “Can I ask you what that route forward now actually looks like?”

“Thank you very much for the question,” Slater replies, relieved that the first one is from a friend rather than foe. This one should be easy. She points to a meeting with a UK minister the next day where she says she’ll find out, but she worries that it will mean the UK Government “imposing” a scheme on her.

Slater insists there is a “substantial question” for the UK Government to answer, “given that we no longer have the common frameworks”. That is news to everyone. Were the common frameworks totally scrapped?

Later, after a word in her ear from an official (presumably telling her to tone it down), she admits the frameworks “exist as published documents”. Which seems about exist-y as existence can get, but then I’m not an expert on such matters.

“Is there a sense that UK Government want one single scheme for the whole of the UK?” asks Ruskell, hoping to rescue his struggling colleague.

“I would very much hope that we could work cooperatively and genuinely to everybody’s benefit, because Scotland is so far ahead, we’re years ahead of the other nations of the UK,” replies the minister. That old chestnut. Scotland the Brave charging ahead to be the first, world-leading, exceptional. Never mind the detail. FIRST PLACE! TOP PODIUM! GOLD MEDAL! And you’d even get 20p back on the champagne bottle.

She continues: “The other nations of the UK would be able to pick up from where we are and run with it, if you like. That would make the most sense for smooth implementation.” It would also make the most sense for an ambitious MSP looking to claim a victory.

“Minister, I’m just a little bit confused here,” committee convener Edward Mountain interrupts calmly, sharpening his metaphorical knife. He asks whether it would make sense for the whole of the UK to have the same 20p charge.

“It would be wonderful to have the same level of deposit across the UK,” Slater replies earnestly, apparently unaware she’s in Mountain’s crosshairs. “We’ve passed regulations saying that would be 20 pence here, but we don’t know what it might be in the rest of the UK.”

“So, is your view that you want to impose the level that you want on the rest of the United Kingdom? Or is it that you just believe the United Kingdom should do what you are doing?” Ooft. Slater fell right into his trap.

Liam Kerr, who clearly models himself on a Suits character, moves the discussion on to ask the minister: “Did the Scottish Government take formal legal advice prior to taking the decision to pause the scheme?”

A nervous Slater begins frantically flicking through her papers, mumbling: “Erm, let me just find the answer here…” After a good while of searching, she finally tells Kerr the government often takes legal advice and she met with businesses to discuss the delay.

Kerr interrupts. “That’s not what I asked, minister. Can we take it, then, that no legal advice was specifically sought prior to pausing the scheme on the impact of that pause?”

“The content of legal advice is confidential…” begins Slater, but again Kerr cuts in. “I know. Did you take legal advice, minister? Yes or no?”

Slater does not compute. “Err…”, she says. Trying again: “Scottish…” She trails off. “As far as I know that is a matter on which I am not able to discuss,” she finishes. Even she seems disappointed in her answer.

She then has a disagreement with Maurice Golden about the definition of “business liability”. He wants to know what the figure is. Slater says she “does not recognise” the term.

“No business will be required to pay a penny?” Golden interjects, eyebrow raised. That eyebrow has done a lot of heavy lifting in recent months, holding the government to account. But Slater does not respond. Instead she blames “interference” by the UK Government. Of course she does.

Just think, all she wanted was to go down in history as the minister that took litter off the streets. But all she’s done is create more trash – out of her reputation.

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