THERE was no shortage of talk during the recent SNP leadership contest on the need to “reset” the Scottish Government’s relationship with business.

But, merely hours after the victorious Humza Yousaf was confirmed as First Minister on Tuesday, any hope held by the beleaguered business community for a more understanding, cooperative, and supportive relationship with the administration looked to have been dashed.

Mr Yousaf talked in the immediate aftermath of his victory of the need for unity in the SNP after a bruising campaign that pitted him against Kate Forbes and Ash Regan. But very quickly that sentiment appeared to evaporate.

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Ms Forbes, widely respected for her handling of the finance brief throughout the pandemic and a convincing speaker on economic issues, exited the cabinet on Tuesday evening, having reportedly turned down Mr Yousaf’s offer of a move to rural affairs, a more junior post. And no sooner had the dust settled than Ms Forbes was followed out the door by Ivan McKee, minister for business, trade, tourism, and enterprise, after he was offered a more limited brief.

In an exclusive interview with The Herald, Mr McKee, who enjoyed productive and respectful working relationships with the tourism and hospitality sectors, said: "I have just been to see to the First Minister. He offered me a smaller job. It was similar to what it was now but with less responsibility...and I have turned it down.

"The relationship with business needs reset and I am not sure how this does that. I am the only person in government who had business experience. There is work to be done there [in government] and they need to have the scope to actually deliver on that remit."

When asked precisely why he left, Mr McKee added: "It is immensely frustrating having to talk to businesses every day and listen to their problems without have the ability to do anything about it.”

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Business leaders will be frustrated, too, and the exits of both Ms Forbes and Mr McKee from government will undoubtedly be seen as a blow. And their departure will compound the disappointment already felt by the absence of former minister Fergus Ewing, who was regarded as having a deep understanding of the Scottish tourism industry.

On the one hand, it seems odd to talk of the need to “reset” relationships when there were ministers in the Scottish cabinet who seemed to be popular with business leaders. But just because there were ministers in situ who empathised with business, it does not necessarily follow that their voices were ultimately heeded at the top of the government.

The controversial deposit return scheme, for one, looks to have been a policy led by the SNP’s Scottish Green Party coalition partners and without universal support, with Ms Forbes stating during the leadership campaign that she would pause the controversial policy if elected first minister, branding it “an example of a good idea badly executed”. Mr Yousaf and Ms Regan also expressed reservations over the scheme.

Of course, we know now that Mr Yousaf has appointed new Deputy First Minister Shona Robison as finance secretary, while Neil Gray, Mr Yousaf’s leadership campaign manager, joins the Cabinet for the first time as Secretary for Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work, and Energy. It means Mr Yousaf has effectively split the finance and economy briefs, with Ms Robison given responsibility for the Scottish budget.

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Neither of those new ministers appear to have significant business experience. They must now prove their capabilities and whether they can be a trusted partner for business. But time is in short supply, and swift action must be taken to restore confidence that has been lost over major policy rows.

Lorna Slater, the Scottish Green MSP, has been the lead minister on the introduction of the DRS and it is fair to say she has not exactly won over the business community with her performance. While you would be hard pushed to find anyone who opposes the aim of the scheme, anger has reached fever pitch in recent weeks among businesspeople who feel concerns over how the scheme will work in practice, and the cost to business and consumers, have still to be adequately addressed.

When asked about the DRS during the SNP leadership contest, Mr Yousaf said he would “exclude” small businesses from the first year of the scheme’s operation if he became First Minister, putting him on a collision course with his coalition partners. Mr Yousaf said he would have an “early conversation” with Ms Slater over the issue. But, with the scheme scheduled to go live on August 16, time is clearly of the essence. Indeed, as Roger White, chief executive of Irn-Bru manufacturer AG Barr, noted in The Herald on Tuesday, any modifications to the scheme would require the legislation to be changed, which is rarely a quick and straightforward process.

Many businesses are still reeling from the pandemic and subsequent supply-chain upheaval and inflation crisis. With cash in such short supply, company owners will be desperately hoping the scheme will be delayed, at least until a more workable approach is found.

Equally, there needs to be a clear sense of direction over decidedly unwelcome plans to ban alcohol advertising and restrict where it is marketed in Scotland. Consultation on the proposals, which have caused widespread alarm across the drinks, hospitality, and tourism trades, closed earlier this month, and to say the business community requires clarity on the issue would be an understatement of epic proportions.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association summed up the situation in its statement congratulating Mr Yousaf on his leadership win on Tuesday. The group, which represents independent pubs, restaurants and hotels, declared that companies are “weighed down by ill-thought-through legislation at a time when they are still recovering from the pandemic, dealing with severe staff shortages and struggling with the realities of spiralling cost-of-living issues and rising costs of doing business”.

For several years now, debate has raged over whether the Scottish Government “gets” business. Relations certainly became strained during the depths of the pandemic, when some in business were concerned that former first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s administration was too slow in lifting Covid restrictions compared with the approach south of the Border. Some have complained that the Scottish Government has not been as generous in providing relief from business rates as the Westminster government.

Now there is an opportunity for a fresh start, and it is incumbent on Mr Yousaf and his new Cabinet to seize it.