FOR many in Scottish business wary of Humza Yousaf’s ascension to First Minister, it has surely been a case of so far, so good.

Much of what has been happening politically on the business and economic front north of the Border has been overshadowed, with the spotlight having been fixed firmly on the Scottish National Party’s finances.

However, Mr Yousaf’s early moves on business-related matters have been not only swift but significant.

True, they represent the removal of perceived negatives rather than bold new positive steps. However, the decision to delay the controversial deposit return scheme from this summer until March 1 next year is undoubtedly a good thing, given the degree of uncertainty over this project and the scale of the practical problems identified by those affected.

So too is Mr Yousaf’s decision to ask officials to go back to the drawing board on proposals for restrictions on alcohol advertising and promotion, with the previous plans surely having been huge on the unintended consequences front and having understandably alarmed the alcoholic drinks and retail sectors.

Given Mr Yousaf’s newness in the First Minister’s post, and the volume of the outcry over the deposit return scheme and proposed restrictions in relation to alcohol marketing, it was easy enough for him to take swift action on these fronts.

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That said, he could have dug his heels in on one or other, or at least dithered. He did neither, and that was the right course of action. His declarations last week on both issues were decisive, although it is crucial to recognise they are only the first steps.

Colin Borland, director of devolved nations for the Federation of Small Businesses, declared in his column in The Herald on Monday that “we may have witnessed a watershed moment in the way the Scottish Government interacts with business”.

Mr Yousaf was meanwhile quick to acknowledge the economic contribution of Scotland’s drinks industry, which is dominated by Scotch whisky, and the sector's importance in a tourism context, as he announced the U-turn on the alcohol advertising restriction proposals in their current form.

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Referring to the Scottish Government’s consultation on restrictions to alcohol advertising, Mr Yousaf said: “The aim of this consultation - to reduce the harm caused by alcohol to children - is not just admirable but it is one I support wholeheartedly. But it is clear that some of the proposals have caused real concern to an industry which is already facing challenges on multiple fronts.

“I have therefore instructed my officials to take these ideas back to the drawing board, work with the industry, and crucially with public health stakeholders, to agree a new set of proposals. I believe that all of us want to reduce the harm caused by alcohol, particularly to young people - but without undermining Scotland’s world-class drinks industry or tourism sector. I am hopeful that, by taking a fresh look at this issue, we can find a way forward which achieves both of these crucial aims.”

The comments about reducing the harm caused by alcohol “without undermining Scotland’s world-class drinks industry or tourism sector” are entirely sensible. The idea of working with the drinks industry also surely gets to the heart of what has been said by business about the Scottish Government not listening.

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Sometimes, these criticisms about not listening have been wide of the mark, and it has just been that business has not got what it wanted after the Scottish Government has listened. At other times, the complaints have been valid. It seems clear from the debacle over the proposals to restrict alcohol advertising, and the potentially farcical as well as draconian measures which could have resulted from their implementation in their original form, that it would have been far better if the views of the industry had been heard and digested before plans were formulated.

On the deposit return scheme delay, Mr Yousaf first pointed the finger at the UK Government. This tilt certainly had validity, given the Conservatives at Westminster have seemed at pains to make political hay on the devolution front over the deposit return scheme.

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However, the UK Government has had something of an open goal to shoot into given the disarray over the deposit return scheme north of the Border so close to its originally planned launch date. Clearly there are things to be sorted out before the scheme, the proposals for which have been overseen by Scottish Greens co-leader and circular economy minister Lorna Slater, goes live.

To his credit, Mr Yousaf did acknowledge the concerns of business about the readiness or rather otherwise of the scheme. More importantly still, he seemed to own up quite willingly to flaws in the scheme that would have to be addressed, notably for small businesses and the hospitality sector.

Mr Yousaf told the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday last week: “I remain committed to this scheme as a way to increase recycling, to reduce litter on our streets and on our beaches and help achieve our net-zero ambitions.

“But we recognise the uncertainty that continues to be created as a result of the UK Government delaying the decision to exclude the scheme from the Internal Market Act. We had hoped for a decision on that this week - but it has not come.”

He added: “At the same time, I - and the circular economy minister - have heard the concerns of business, particularly about the scheme’s readiness for launch this August. As a result, we will now delay the launch of the scheme to the 1st of March 2024. This provides 10 months for businesses to get ready. We will use that additional time to work with businesses, and [scheme administrator] Circularity Scotland, to address concerns with the scheme and ensure a successful launch next year.

“We have also developed a package of measures to simplify and de-risk the scheme, and to support small businesses and hospitality in particular.”

Obviously, it is early days indeed. Even in the narrow context of the deposit return scheme and proposals on alcohol advertising restrictions, what will be at least as crucial as the suspension of what was coming is what transpires next, and whether it addresses the legitimate concerns that have been raised on both fronts. Mr Borland said it was “appropriate” that the first test of the Scottish Government’s “new approach to business engagement” would be the review and reform of the deposit return scheme.

Meanwhile, the more general attitude of Mr Yousaf to business will remain under intense scrutiny, as firms try to get a measure of the new First Minister and his interactions with the SNP’s junior partners, the Scottish Greens, on this front.

At this stage, even though Mr Yousaf’s early moves look positive, for many it might still be very much a case of so far, so good, so what?