The UK Government’s intervention on Scotland’s deposit return scheme represents a “major erosion” of devolution, Humza Yousaf has said.
In a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Saturday, the First Minister called upon him to revoke the UK Government’s rejection of glass in the deposit return scheme (DRS) by Monday.
Yousaf claims the UK Government demands, which include the removal of glass, would have a detrimental impact on businesses in Scotland and threaten the viability of the scheme.
He cited the concerns about jobs and security raised by C&C Group, owners of one of Scotland’s biggest brewers Tennent’s.
Under the new changes, only include PET plastic bottles, and aluminium and steel cans.
Similar UK-wide schemes are not set to start until 2025 and do not include glass bottles.
Scottish ministers had been forced to seek an exemption from the UK Internal Market Act, something the UK Government is not prepared to agree to, amid concerns trade between the four nations could be impacted.
Yousaf’s letter on Saturday comes after the minister in charge of the scheme, Scottish Greens MSP Lorna Slater, said last week that “Westminster is starting to block us at every turn” with regards to the DRS.
Yousaf wrote: “Removing glass will also have a significant impact on business. For example, C&C Group – owners of the iconic Tennent’s brand – has been explicit that the decision by the UK Government to remove glass threatens investment and jobs. Other Scottish businesses have raised similar concerns privately with us.
“We cannot – and will not – put Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage by the UK Government’s eleventh hour changes to the range of materials included, impacting Scottish jobs, inward investment and potentially reducing choice for consumers in Scotland.”
Addressing the constitutional row created by the intervention, Yousaf said: “There are much wider consequences of the decision.
“This UK Government intervention at such a late stage demonstrates a major erosion of the devolution settlement.
“I urge you to revoke the conditions set out in your letter and grant a full exclusion for Scotland’s DRS, to be implemented as per the regulations agreed by the Scottish Parliament in this area of devolved competence.
“Without this, the Scottish Government is not prepared to put Scottish businesses at a competitive disadvantage due to the last-minute demands the UK Government has made.
“There is little doubt your Government’s action have put the future of DRS in grave danger not only in Scotland but also in the rest of the UK due to the damage to consumer and investor confidence.”
The First Minister conceded the ability for the schemes to work together where possible would be “desirable”, but added the UK Government was “unable to provide the operational details required to allow the schemes to be interoperable” due to it being at such an early stage.
“Businesses need certainty and they need it now – not in two years’ time when the UK Government scheme potentially, hopefully launches,” he added.
“The UK Government has significantly undermined the clarity and certainty that businesses unanimously tell us they need.”
The First Minister asked for a response from Downing Street by Monday to allow for the issue to be discussed by the Scottish Cabinet the following day and Holyrood updated.
The Scotland Office said it would respond to the First Minister’s letter in due course, with a spokeswoman adding: “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 DRS 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.”
Scottish Conservative Maurice Golden previously voiced support for the UK Government intervention and stated: “The UK Government have listened to worried businesses who are calling for a UK-wide approach.
“The reality is the SNP-Greens have made such a mess of things that the current scheme is unrecognisable from the one envisaged four years ago.”
Elsewhere, Yousaf declared there has “never been a more important time” for Scotland to become independent, ahead of taking to the streets in his Glasgow Pollok constituency on Saturday.
He said: “The current UK political system is broken and has failed to support people in Scotland during a Westminster cost-of-living crisis.
“On top of the damage being inflicted by cruel Westminster policies, the Tories are undermining the Scottish Parliament at every opportunity and Labour are sitting on their hands – the SNP is the only party prepared to stand up and defend devolution.
“Today, I’ll be taking the SNP’s positive vision for an independent Scotland built on the principles of a wellbeing economy that puts working families first – rather than big business – where our democracy is protected and strengthened.”