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Lorna Slater: UK Government taking scorched earth approach to devolution

Scottish Government minister Lorna Slater is heading the Deposit Return Scheme

Lorna Slater: UK Government taking scorched earth approach to devolution

Scotland's multi-million pound Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) has been "sabotaged" by a UK Government which is "pursuing a scorched earth approach to devolution", Lorna Slater has claimed.

In a ministerial statement which rivals claimed had more to do with independence than the recycling initiative, the circular economy minister linked DRS to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, Brexit and the constitution, claiming devolution is under "sustained attack".

However, it remains unclear as to whether the delayed scheme – aimed at boosting recycling rates by placing a refundable 20p charge on single-use drinks containers – will go ahead after the UK Government called for glass to be removed.

The Friday night letter said a temporary exclusion from the UK-wide Internal Market Act would be allowed if the Scottish plan came into line with proposals for a similar scheme for England and Northern Ireland, which is yet to come into force.

First Minister Humza Yousaf said excluding glass would mean 600 million bottles "won't be removed from our streets, our beaches and our parks".

SNP backbencher Fergus Ewing called that figure "false and disingenuous", saying it would require "every man, woman and child personally to litter 109 bottles" a year.

Slater said the number is "the estimate of the number of glass bottles that are in use in Scotland and are therefore included in the Deposit Return Scheme". She told MSPs: "They would be in [the] scope of the deposit return scheme and then therefore would be prevented from being littered by being included."

Claiming that devolution is under "sustained attack", she referred to Westminster's veto of the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which is currently subject to legal challenge, as well as recent instructions to civil servants over meetings between Scottish ministers and overseas governments.

Slater said: "When we pass laws to make lives a bit easier for trans people, the Scottish secretary steps in and blocks the legislation. When Scottish ministers engage with other nations to share ideas and to promote Scotland as a place to visit, to study and to invest – the UK foreign secretary issues a diktat to overseas embassies to silence and side-line them. And now, it is clear we cannot even introduce a recycling scheme without it being sabotaged by bad faith actors in the UK Government, who never supported devolution in the first place.

"The Scottish secretary – whose job is supposed to be ensuring that devolution runs smoothly – seems more interested in torpedoing Scotland’s parliament than he is in protecting Scotland’s environment."

She told parliament: "This is about protecting our Scottish environment, but it is also more than that. It is about protecting our Scottish democracy.

"We are here as the consequence of a Brexit that Scotland didn't vote for. Every day people are paying the price of reduced living standards, a weaker economy and less money for public services like the NHS.

"Not just broken glass, but a broken union – a union of supposed equals exposed as anything but by a Tory government pursuing a scorched earth approach to devolution."

She went on: "We should not have to put up with Westminster interfering with our parliament and sabotaging important polices to suit their own agenda."

The Green politician said removing glass would undermine "the commercial viability of Scotland's DRS" and could mean charges on plastic and cans may change.

Tory MSP Maurice Golden said the speech "should have been delivered by the minister for independence because it was solely designed to pick a fight with the UK Government – anything to distract from the mess the member has made of deposit return".

Labour's Sarah Boyack said Slater had "chosen to make this statement about the constitution and is using it as an excuse to divert attention from the utter mismanagement and the uncertainty her scheme has caused".

Responding to the statement, a UK Government spokesperson said: "The government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market.

"The drinks industry has raised concerns about the Scottish Government’s Deposit Return Scheme differing from plans in the rest of the UK, resulting in the Scottish Government reviewing and pausing their scheme earlier this year. 

"We have listened to these concerns and that is why we have accepted the Scottish Government’s request for a UK Internal Market (UKIM) exclusion on a temporary and limited basis to ensure the Scottish Government’s scheme aligns with planned schemes for the rest of the UK.

"Deposit return schemes need to be consistent across the UK and this is the best way to provide a simple and effective system. A system with the same rules for the whole UK will increase recycling collection rates and reduce litter – as well as minimise disruption to the drinks industry and ensure simplicity for consumers."

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