TO the outside observer, the decision by Kate Forbes to speak to the press at the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore this week looked like an astute move.

The Finance and Economy Secretary endured a rocky start, to say the least, to her bid to succeed Nicola Sturgeon as leader of the SNP and First Minister of Scotland, having generated controversy over her views on equal marriage and gender self-identification. But her campaign now looks increasingly assured, and it could be argued that this is down to her sensible messaging around business and the economy.

Ms Forbes, who is the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, used the backdrop of the Cairngorm Brewery on Monday to set out her stall as the definitive champion of business in her leadership contest against Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan. The location spoke directly to concerns about the controversial deposit return scheme, the sharp rise in energy prices and other costs firms such as breweries have faced in recent months, and concerns within the drinks industry over plans to ban alcohol advertising in Scotland.

READ MORE: Scott Wright: Vast bonuses are a world away from reality

If ever a place could be a metaphor for dissatisfaction in the drinks trade over the current direction of Scottish Government policy, this was it.

Talking to The Herald, Ms Forbes expressed her fears that the execution of the DRS could leave businesses like Cairngorm Brewery “fearing for their future”, and emphasised her commitment to repairing the relationship between business and the Scottish Government that became strained amid the pandemic.

Ms Forbes said that if elected as First Minister she would “reset the relationship with business”.

She added: “I would certainly take a more pro-business approach because I don’t think we can achieve our aims of reducing poverty or investing in the NHS and public services unless we’ve got a growing prosperous economy. It’s a starting position.”

READ MORE: Scott Wright: Collapse of M&Co should set alarm bells ringing

Perhaps we should not be surprised at such level-headedness. After all, Ms Forbes won plaudits early in her ministerial career when she stepped in to deliver the Scottish Budget at the eleventh hour in 2020, following revelations about the private life of former finance secretary Derek Mackay. She then appeared to handle the finance brief well during the challenges of the pandemic, albeit she found herself at odds with sections of the business community at times with regard to Covid restrictions, grants, and business rates.

To be fair to Ms Regan and Mr Yousaf, the leadership contest is still in its relative infancy, so there is ample opportunity for them to set out their views on business. Both Ms Regan and Mr Yousaf have also highlighted concerns over the DRS, with Ms Regan joining Ms Forbes in calling for its roll-out to be paused, and Mr Yousaf suggesting small businesses should be excluded for a year. These interventions perhaps give grounds for optimism that the scheme could be modified to help businesses.

However, neither Ms Regan nor Mr Yousaf appear to have been as emphatic as Ms Forbes when it comes to a show of support for the business community.

Of course, plenty of hot air can be expended during such leadership debates. It will only be when the new First Minister is in place that we will have a clear sense of how serious they are about working more closely with business. And there remain serious doubts as to whether Ms Forbes will ultimately win the contest, given that there is no shortage of party members who seem to be openly at odds with her views on gender self-identification and equal marriage.

READ MORE: Scott Wright: Scotch shines abroad but trade warns of 'damage' at home

Whoever is sworn in, though, will have to show a real willingness to engage with those parts of the business community which feel ignored by the current administration.

It is impossible to overstate the frustration and worry being felt over the DRS; those concerns have been documented eloquently and in great detail in a special investigation in The Herald this week. Yet despite such well-grounded criticism there is no sign of the concerns of industry being taken on board.

Likewise, there has been justifiable anger over proposals to severely restrict alcohol advertising and marketing in Scotland. It was a relief to Scotch whisky producers to hear the proposals will not mean the removal of signage at distilleries and attractions such as the Johnnie Walker Experience in Edinburgh. There had been genuine fear that such measures would seriously hamper the Scottish tourism industry and affect jobs, notably in rural areas.

But concerns remain over other measures floated by the consultation, which could bring an end to alcohol sponsorship of sport and cultural events, strictly limit where drink can be sold in stores, and ban alcohol advertising in newspapers and magazines.

Drinks firms and hospitality groups have made clear that these proposals could ultimately cause economic damage and drain vital support from grassroots sports clubs and local festivals while failing to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The broader debate about whether the Scottish Government is good or bad for business began before the SNP leadership contest began, and will continue well after the new First Minister takes residence at Bute House. There are many people who for political reasons will stand solidly behind the view that the current administration either does not prioritise business or simply just does not get it, and will point to episodes such as the Ferguson Marine debacle to back that up.

Those with a different perspective may suggest that businesses in Scotland were well supported during the pandemic and that, although the ferries being built by Ferguson will come into service much later than planned and at greater expense, the Inverclyde yard has provided important employment in an area that has suffered enormously over recent decades. Those on this side of the argument may also say that the Scottish Government can only do so much within the powers at its disposal.

Regardless of your political outlook, there is no shortage of items in the business in-tray awaiting the next First Minister. Whoever replaces Ms Sturgeon could quickly get the business community on side if they reduce the burden and complication of the DRS and bin the most damaging aspects of the alcohol advertising consultation.

To coin a football phrase, that would certainly give the next First Minister a “new manager bounce”.