DRS: Humza Yousaf says Labour greats would be appalled at party's 'silence' on devolution threat
First Minister Humza Yousaf has accused his opponents on the Labour benches of failing to stand up for devolution by maintaining a “complete and utter silence” on the row over the Deposit Return Scheme (DRS), saying he “shudders to think” what former leaders John Smith and Donald Dewar would make of the situation.
The DRS is supposed to encourage recycling by having customers pay a small deposit on drinks containers that is refunded when they are returned for recycling.
The scheme has been delayed several times and its future is now uncertain after Westminster said it could only go ahead if glass was removed from its scope.
Both Yousaf and Green circular economy minister Lorna Slater, who is in charge of implementing the DRS, have characterised the move as an affront to democracy and a threat to devolution.
During today’s session of First Minister’s Questions Yousaf was asked by Green MSP Arianne Burgess what priority his government is giving to protecting Scotland’s environment.
In his response, Yousaf said his administration remains committed to working with the Greens on measures designed to help the country achieve net zero, adding that progress “depends on us being able to use the powers that are fully devolved to this parliament”.
“Just this week, of course, we’ve seen the UK Government determined to ride roughshod over a measure to improve recycling and dramatically reduce litter by seeking to sabotage regulations this parliament passed on bottle and can recycling,” he said.
Burgess said it was “astonishing” to hear that the UK Government is “at a whim” seeking to undermine the DRS. She pointed out that the Labour party has given its support to a similar scheme in Wales and suggested that all parties in Scotland should come out in support of the Holyrood legislation.
Yousaf said that Burgess was “absolutely right” to highlight what he called the Tories’ “hypocrisy” on DRS given that it had previously backed a scheme that included glass. However, he added that the issue “does not stop at the Tories”.
“Labour in Wales shares Scotland’s anger about the treatment of devolved parliaments; they share out ambition to have glass included,” he said.
“There was a time when Labour in Scotland did stand up for the Scottish Parliament’s right to make our own choices.
“I shudder to think what greats like John Smith or Donald Dewar, those architects of devolution, what they would be thinking about Scottish Labour’s complete and utter silence at the fact that the Conservatives time and time again want to undermine devolution.”
The row erupted after the Scottish Government was forced to seek an exemption from the post-Brexit Internal Markets Act because the DRS, which would add 20p to the cost of a drink in Scotland, would result in different prices being charged for the same goods on either side of the border.
Last week, the UK Government said a temporary exclusion from the legislation would be allowed if Scotland’s DRS plan came into line with proposals for a similar scheme for England and Northern Ireland, which is yet to come into force.
Noting that Westminster has also blocked the enactment of the Scottish Government’s gender reform laws, which were passed at Holyrood in December, Slater has accused the UK Government of “torpedoing Scotland’s parliament” and taking a “scorched earth” approach to devolution.