Humza Yousaf said his government would provide a “fresh start for Scotland”, as he delayed plans to to introduce a deposit return scheme for drinks cans and bottles and promised to “go back to the drawing board” on controversial plans to introduce further restrictions on alcohol advertising.
The moves, both announced in a statement setting out his priorities for the next three years for the Scottish Government, were hailed by the First Minister as part of a “reset” of the relationship between ministers and business.
Concerns have been raised about the impact both initiatives could have, particularly on Scotland’s drink industry and the hospitality and tourism sector.
With plans already announced to allow local authorities to more than double the council tax on second homes, Mr Yousaf suggested tax increases could be on the way for higher earners, as he spoke of the need to be “bolder on taxation”.
The First Minister said: “Scotland is a wealthy country, but that wealth is not distributed evenly.
“To tackle poverty we need to be even bolder on taxation, and redistribution of wealth.”
He stressed the importance of businesses – and particularly small businesses – to Scotland, describing them as the “backbone of our economy”.
With drinks producers and others having raised concerns about the deposit return scheme – which was due to come in on August 16 – he said the government would act.
But he said he had “heard the concerns of business, particularly about the scheme’s readiness for launch this August”.
As a result the scheme, which will see shoppers charged a 20p deposit every time they buy a drink in a can or a bottle, will not now come in until March 1 2024 – with this being the second time it has been pushed back.
Mr Yousaf said the additional time would be used to “address concerns with the scheme and ensure a successful launch next year”.
He also confirmed the scheme will be simplified, to help small businesses and the hospitality sector in particular, with more details of this to be announced by circular economy minister Lorna Slater in the coming days.
On controversial proposals to restrict alcohol advertising which the government had been consulting on, including a ban on sponsorships for sport and live events and ending the sale of products with drinks firms’ logos on, Mr Yousaf said while the aim of reducing the harm caused by drink was “admirable” it was “clear that some of the proposals have caused real concern to an industry which is already facing challenges on multiple fronts”.
The First Minister said: “I have therefore instructed my officials to take these ideas back to the drawing board, and to work with the industry, and with public health stakeholders, to agree a new set of proposals.”
He added: “I believe that all of us want to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, particularly to young people – but without undermining Scotland’s world-class drinks industry or tourism sector.
“I am hopeful that by taking a fresh look at this issue, we can find a way forward which achieves both of those aims.”
However, opposition parties said that Mr Yousaf is not providing the leadership that Scotland needs.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher MSP said Mr Yousaf is “merely tinkering with Nicola Sturgeon’s failing policy agenda”.
She said: “It will dismay the majority of the Scottish public that campaigning for independence is the top priority for Humza Yousaf.
“Scotland needs national leadership focused on tackling the big challenges – the global cost-of-living crisis, an NHS on its knees thanks to the First Minister, and a sluggish economy. Instead, we have a nationalist leader continuing to appeal to his hopelessly divided party.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said that “continuity won’t cut it” and that Scotland deserves better.
He said: “Some of the announcements in the First Minister’s statement today are welcome, some of it is undoubtedly well intentioned, but much of it is rehashed promises from the past that have never been delivered.
“But what Humza Yousaf can’t escape from is that he is not now running a functioning government.
“This is an SNP that is mired in scandal, mired in division, talking to themselves and about themselves.
“The crisis that now engulfs the SNP is not just an indication of how they govern their party, but also how they govern our country.”
In a wide-ranging statement Mr Yousaf announced a six-month pilot scheme which will see peak time rail fares scrapped in Scotland will start in October.
He also pledged the Scottish Government would double the number of public charging points for electric vehicles to “at least 6,000” and would deliver six new major vessels for the country’s struggling ferry network.
Mr Yousaf, who was Scottish health secretary before becoming First Minister, said he would take “slightly more time” with plans to set up a National Care Service, with the first Holyrood vote on this now having been pushed back until after the summer recess.
But the First Minister promised to set out plans to increase pay for those working in adult social care to £12 an hour.
He said: “While we are not able to afford to do this immediately, I want to send a signal to the sector that we are absolutely serious about improving pay, terms and conditions for those who care for our most vulnerable.”
In a bid to improve education he confirmed Scotland would seek to rejoin two major international surveys – Trends in International Maths and Science, and Progress in International Reading Literacy.
Setting out his priorities to MSPs, he said: “The actions we take over the next three years, stand Scotland in good stead for the next decade. And they will use our present, very significant, strengths, to deliver a fresh start for Scotland.”