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

Humza Yousaf’s Programme for Government will be an opportunity for the First Minister to turn over a new leaf with business and try and prove the SNP does actually understand the economy.

The SNP has endured a frosty relationship at times with business – with Wellbeing Economy Minister Neil Gray admitting on Sunday that it will “take time” to rebuild some of the trust that has been lost.

Business leaders have often criticised the Scottish Government, particularly under Nicola Sturgeon, for not marking business needs as a priority.

Some business chiefs will have seen the co-operation agreement with the Scottish Greens as another signal that business needs are not a top priority.

Incredibly, Mr Gray told the BBC’s Sunday Show that some firms had not forgiven his party for the restrictions placed on businesses, as well as everyone else, to help protect public health during the pandemic.

Since becoming First Minister, Mr Yousaf has looked to “reset” the relationship with business – binning a flurry of policies and ideas that traders had raised concerns over before his time in the top job.

The problem-hit deposit return scheme was delayed further before being kicked into the long grass, the proposed ban on alcohol advertising was sent back to the drawing board, along with initial plans to roll out highly protected marine areas.

The message was pretty clear – the new First Minister was listening to business concerns and putting things on hold that were raising concerns for traders.

His new deal for business, set out earlier this year, will have gained the attention of Scotland’s business community.

That will have sent a stronger message to some parts of Scotland’s business community that their concerns will not fall on deaf ears under the new leadership at Bute House.

But Mr Yousaf will be judged on what he actively does, not just when he folds under pressure.

Another Scottish Government policy that faced more calls for a change of heart from businesses is the licensing of short-term lets – plans that have been delayed several times and decent grace periods granted.

There is evidence that the explosion of unrestricted Airbnb-style properties is contributing to a housing crisis, particularly in Edinburgh where it is taking away housing stocks – while legitimate and well-run businesses should welcome a sector being regulated.

Mr Yousaf, to his credit, didn’t fold to the calls of the short-term lets and self-catering lobby and the licensing scheme is expected to go ahead as planned, albeit delayed.

But can Tuesday’s Programme for Government really foster a more trusting relationship between the party of government and Scotland’s business community?

Mr Yousaf is expected to place anti-poverty measures at the centre of his Programme for Government – this could mean following through on previous commitments to boost the Scottish Child Payment and expand free childcare.

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He has also faced calls to get serious about tackling the climate crisis with action – this again will call on businesses to either pay more or do more, something we need to all expect in the coming years.

But in order to pay for anything new, it is likely the First Minister will place businesses and the economy firmly as a means for it.

To bring forward new shiny things, the Scottish Government can boost its tax receipts – this could be through rises to income tax rates as has been floated under the SNP’s “progressive” strategy that could see higher earners pay more. But income tax changes cannot be rolled out other than when setting the annual budget.

But strengthening the economy, and creating well-paid and taxed jobs can do the trick too.

So Mr Yousaf has an opportunity to reset that relationship with miffed parts of the business sector, upset at some of his party’s policies, by giving them confidence that a strong economy is in the interests of the SNP and its wishes to pay for its priority to tackle poverty and inequality.  

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It might sound rosy, but the dire state of public finances makes this appear a lot easier than it looks.

Next year’s budget could see a funding gap of around £1 billion and Mr Yousaf has admitted that this is “the most difficult time” for public finances he has seen during his 11 years in government.

South of the Border, Labour is trying to place itself as the new party of business, following the shambles presided over by Rishi Sunak’s predecessor.

In Scotland, there is also a tussle for that mantle – and sending the right message on Tuesday could give businesses the chance to give Mr Yousaf the benefit of the doubt and the SNP another go at it.

Ahead of the Programme for Government, the Federation of Small Businesses has called for “no surprise changes – especially to regulations or overheads” for traders.

Meanwhile, the CBI group has appealed for a long-term tax strategy to boost Scotland’s competitiveness and drive inward investment.

Businesses want confidence from politicians that they share an ambition of a strong economy.

The acknowledgement from the Scottish Government that there is a trust issue and that under new management, businesses will be listened to more, can only benefit both Mr Yousaf and traders across the country.

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