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Drinks firms thank SNP rebel Fergus Ewing for 'courage' in vote against Lorna Slater

Fergus Ewing MSP

Drinks firms thank SNP rebel Fergus Ewing for 'courage' in vote against Lorna Slater

Brewers, gin firms and whisky traders have signed an open letter praising the "courage" of the only SNP MSP to call for Lorna Slater's removal from office.

SNP backbencher Fergus Ewing, a critic of the Scottish Government's Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), voted with Tory, Labour and Lib Dem MSPs in a motion of no confidence in Slater, the minister in charge of DRS.

Tabled by Conservative Liam Kerr, it sought her removal as cabinet secretary for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity.

Slater survived the vote, which took place just hours after she told the Scottish Parliament that Circularity Scotland, the private organisation set up to administer DRS, had entered administration

The body's failure comes after companies invested millions of pounds in the project, which was also supported by a £9m sum from the Scottish National Investment Bank. The bank's chair, Willie Watt, has told MSPs he expects more than half of that sum will be lost.

First Minister Humza Yousaf defended Slater before the vote, saying the UK Government - which called for changes to Scotland's DRS before it would agree to make an exemption to UK trade rules - had "torpedoed" the scheme. Meanwhile, the minister's Green party colleague Mark Ruskell said the Scottish Parliament "needs more Lorna Slaters".

But while there had been speculation before the vote about the potential for an SNP rebellion, given criticism of DRS by figures including Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, only Ewing voted against Slater.

Afterwards, Kerr said "many SNP backbenchers" had "bottled out of taking the tough but necessary decision" to remove Slater.

Reports today suggest Ewing - a former minister and the son of SNP figurehead Winnie Ewing, nicknamed Madame Ecosse - may lose the party whip.

Now drinks industry figures are amongst more than 120 signatories to an online letter praising Ewing. They include representatives of Edinburgh's Summerhall Distillery, Lossiemouth's Windswept Brewing Co and whisky broker Blair Bowman. North Uist Distillery, Edinburgh soft drinks firm Bon Accord and others are also represented.

The letter says tells Ewing: "We believe that you have shown great courage and integrity in standing up for the interests of businesses, even though it has put you at odds with your party.

"We understand that you have been engaged with businesses on this issue for years, and that you have seen firsthand the damage that the DRS is doing. We are grateful for your efforts to persuade your colleagues to halt the scheme."

In a statement released after the confidence vote, Ewing said halting DRS in 2021 could have avoided "the massive losses now incurred by hundreds of businesses" as well as "major political damage".

He said: "The minister with responsibility for the scheme does not enjoy the confidence of business.  

"I have therefore voted today to seek a new minister appointed to take over this troubled matter to deal with the huge fallout of numerous compensation claims and reconsider afresh how best to achieve recycling objectives."

The SNP said it was "pleased to have won this vote convincingly", adding: "One SNP MSP not abiding by the whip in this instance is an internal party matter which will be considered by the chief whip in due course."

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