This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

He’s back! After a summer of going MIA in Moray, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has returned to the political radar to launch a blueprint on the economy.

It was a small blip. Barely enough to excite one of last week’s Nessie hunters.

Economic blueprints rarely become reality, after all, especially Scottish Tory ones.

But there were moments of interest. 

The plan was a mix of the over-familiar and the insipid. Uncontroversially, it said long–term economic growth should be the Scottish Government’s top priority, urging the usual mix of quango decluttering, workforce planning, lifelong learning and tax cuts. 

There was also an appeal to shrink the devolved government. 

Not so that fewer people could deliver the same output more efficiently. But apparently so the sudden glut of ex-civil servants could be cherry-picked by the private sector.

Some ideas seemed to ignore a quarter century of devolution. 

Like a “Joint Scottish Economy Board”, on which Scottish and UK ministers would agree Scotland’s economic strategy.

“It would be responsible to, and funded by, both governments,” the blueprint said, and would make Scotland’s trade with the rest of the UK “as seamless as possible”.

Note, there was no suggestion the board would jointly agree to the UK’s economic strategy, just what Scotland might get, provided it nestled ever deeper into the bosom of the Union.

The idea that an SNP-Green Government, or almost any kind of Scottish Government, would limit its options by choosing a Treasury bear hug is a non-starter.

Other ideas seemed flaky. There was the “business regulation handbrake” which would see the Scottish Government delay or scrap regulations “during a time of economic recession or weak performance”. Binning new rules would, the blueprint said, “deliver stability”.

However rules that are alive then dead then alive again aren’t famously the stuff of stability. Nor are rules that only work in good weather and become too onerous in the rain.  

Surely better to pass legislation that is durable and works in a changing economic climate. 

The idea would also tend to defer regulation indefinitely, in case things turned tricky.

Given governments don’t pass regulation just to annoy business, but to protect consumers and the environment, that’s a recipe for gruesome problems down the line. 

UnspunAnalysis: Is Kate Forbes in danger of looking like a sour grapes loser?

Despite demands for a shake-up of business rates and council tax and cuts to income tax, there was a telling lack of appetite for Holyrood to have any new fiscal powers.

While Mr Ross was keen on tax and spending powers being devolved from Holyrood to councils, where the Tories might actually use them, there was nothing about more powers coming from London to Edinburgh. 

If he truly believed he might be in power at Holyrood one day, surely he would want to have more levers to pull and taxes to cut? That he wasn’t fussed tells its own story. 

What the event did spell out pretty clearly was how the Scottish Tories intend to fight the coming general election. 

Mr Ross all but ignored Labour (one mention) and concentrated his fire on the SNP and particularly the Scottish Greens, who he sees as Humza Yousaf’s Achilles heel.

The business people at Mr Ross’s launch may not have been a representative sample, but they did represent a series of trade bodies, and their distaste for the Greens was palpable.

The Herald:

It’s something which has been coming up strongly in other business forums as well.

The SNP’s proximity to the Greens, a party opposed to the pursuit of economic growth, is viewed with deep suspicion by many of those who backed the SNP under Alex Salmond.

Mr Yousaf was warned about it in a recent Holyrood Sources podcast but shrugged it off.

But a new survey from the Fraser of Allander Institute this week will make brutal reading for him, showing an appalling breakdown in relations between business and his Government.

Mr Ross hasn’t many cards to play, especially on the economy after the chaos of Liz Truss and the Year of Five Chancellors, but siding with business against the Greens is one.

If the Scottish Tories can survive the election as the party that gets business that’ll do him.

To that end, he is offering rebel SNP MSPs a chance to damage the Greens with the help of Tory votes. Even if they refuse, it will stoke tension and division inside the Government.

Mr Ross’s economic blueprint isn’t up to much, but he has a much better plan of attack.

...enjoyed the article? Sign up for free to the Unspun newsletter and receive it directly to your inbox every weekday night at 7pmClick here 👈