I FIRST wrote about the Deposit Return Scheme last year, alerted by a conversation with a quite senior person within the Scottish Government.

We were talking about ferries but he outbid me. “If you think ferries are bad, just wait till you see the Deposit Return Scheme”.

Worse than ferries! Surely this was impossible for something that sounded so benign. Not at all, he assured me. The costs were phenomenal – even more hundreds of millions than it takes to build a couple of ferries. And the complexity … at this point, his eyes approached the ceiling before discretion prevailed.

As months rolled by, my curiosity was bolstered by intermittent conversations with people having to engage with the scheme. Everything I heard supported the initial assessment. The costs, complexity, lack of preparedness, threats to businesses, the unintended consequences … and so it has gone on.

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There are parallels with the gender self-identification debacle. Anyone who opposed it was branded illiberal and transphobic whereas the opposite was quickly confirmed as the truth. Zealotry was the enemy of reason. All that mattered was to press on.

With the Deposit Return Scheme, critics have been branded environmental laggards, unconcerned with the fate of the planet. “Hang on,” they cry in vain, “we support the principle but what you are creating is unworkable”. The reply is tone-deaf. There will be no turning back, to recall a phrase.

Intrinsic to this mentality is the crucial objective of creating “difference” which is common to both enterprises. Anything which can be done differently from the rest of the UK must, ipso facto, bring the bonus of potential conflict with the detested ones. “They’re Scotland’s bottles” and no colonial master will tell us what to do with them.

Sunday’s no-shows on a BBC Scotland programme which took a serious look at DRS should mark the beginning of its end. The fact nobody from the Scottish Government, nobody from Net Zero Scotland and nobody from Circularity Scotland was prepared to take part spoke louder than any words they might have uttered.

There are only six months to go until a project of which most Scots still know nothing is due to go live while there are just days until businesses must decide whether to register for it – without knowing crucial details of how it will operate or how serious are the risks of huge penalties for non-compliance.

When John Swinney appeared on radio yesterday, with the primary task of telling every local authority in Scotland it is wrong about real-terms funding cuts that will debilitate even more public services (like refuse collection), he was asked about the DRS and seemed to know as little as anyone else. Businesses should register and worry about the details later was the gist of his advice. Strange way to run a government.

Last week, I asked the Scottish Government some questions about the workings of the DRS in rural areas. They referred me to Circularity Scotland, whose PR company came back with a statement which ignored the questions and might have been written by a robot. Practical detail, it seems, is beneath their dignity – or capability.

There are three principal objections. First, it is a Scotland-only scheme whereas all common sense says a workable DRS should be UK-wide since bottles and cans do not really understand borders. The Welsh have come to the same conclusion, pushing back their scheme until 2025 when it can be introduced coherently and incrementally.

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People like Mr Swinney constantly prate about being deprived of access to the EU single market and how we must rejoin. Fine with me. At the same time, they seize opportunities like this to disrupt the UK single market which accounts for two-thirds of our trade. That reflects the politics of prejudice rather than anything more ambitious.

While SNP politicians revel in borders as the stuff of dreams, businesses and consumers pay the price. What will Scotland gain from a barrier for both small and large drinks companies, now counting the cost of separate regimes for different UK markets? The more micro the business, the more disproportionate these costs, but who cares?

Second, a critical factor is the inclusion of glass. That makes any DRS much more complicated, which is why most do not start with it. As Fergus Ewing (a lone voice of sense in SNP ranks) pointed out, the five most successful schemes in Europe do not include glass. England came to the same conclusion. But once again, difference must trump reality.

The Herald: SNP MSP Fergus Ewing broke ranks and requested that the scheme be haltedSNP MSP Fergus Ewing broke ranks and requested that the scheme be halted (Image: PA)

More than 70 per cent of glass drinks containers are recycled. Anyone who thinks litter-bugs who are crass enough to throw away a bottle will instead carry it around to reclaim a 20p deposit is deluded. On the other hand, some councils are withdrawing routine glass collections because demand will reduce. Put such factors together and there is no certainty of even marginal gains.

That takes me to the third argument which is the complete disregard for household costs. This is middle-class law at a time when millions are counting every penny spent in supermarkets. Why would any sane government choose this moment to introduce something so wildly inflationary?

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In my local Tesco yesterday. I could buy eight cans of Coke for £3.20 which will immediately go to £4.80. Ten small own-brand bottles of water cost £2 so that will jump to £4. That is only the beginning. Administrative costs will push up wholesale prices – up to 100 per cent for more niche products – quite apart from the deposits.

In the fullness of time, customers will redeem 20p in cash or vouchers. Meanwhile, people on low incomes will have lent that money to supermarkets (or somebody). That alone is crazy in current circumstances. In fact, it is offensively crazy.

If there is any sanity left in the Scottish Government, this whole thing will be put on hold until a minister can be found to defend it credibly on a Sunday morning. That won’t be before August – and it won’t be Lorna Slater.