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View from the street: Be better, sooner

Fergus Mcgowan
Senior Client Manager

Every few weeks a small group of my friends gather for something we call the Ben Nevis Curry Club. As the name suggests, the cuisine is predetermined. Attendees arrive with a high degree of certainty about what they will get, even if it’s impossible to imagine precisely what my attempt at a Katsu curry will taste like.

In Scotland, the current legislative agenda lacks any comparable certainty. A continual dance between the private sector and government has tested relations to their nadir and no sector is immune, as our world-renowned whisky industry has discovered with proposals for the deposit return scheme and restrictions on alcohol marketing.

In the past year alone, we have seen flagship policy after flagship policy delayed, paused for further review, or scrapped entirely. Countless hours and pounds of capital have been spent in the process, not least by businesses preparing for the implementation and implications of legislative plans ultimately sent home to think again. This cannot be allowed to continue. Thankfully, there are signs it will not.

In a recent column for The Times, Alex Massie evoked a saying from the days when Scottish Labour were in power at Holyrood. Do less, better. I’m not a Labour voter and am young enough to struggle to remember a Labour government here, but I tend to agree with him – and them – on this point. Electorates would more readily accept less legislative change that is properly thought through, rather than unremitting servings of half-baked policy.

The relationship between government and business must get better, quicker. Effective legislation requires genuine engagement at the earliest stages of policy discussion. All sides must listen properly to the issues and experiences presented by those affected.

Policy makers should be able to admit that a policy or opposition is flawed at the earliest point in the process, to avoid so much wasted time, money and energy. There is nothing to gain from stubborn political posturing and nor should there be. The public will respect leaders who admit they are wrong and reward responsible businesses that play their part in shaping a healthy and prosperous society, thereby demonstrating they have earned a seat at the table.

Since taking the top job – or “captaining the team” as he puts it – Humza Yousaf and his SNP (a crucial clarification) ministers have attempted to do just this. Ministers and special advisors are being seen meeting with industry groups and businesses to help shape the answers to questions that will have great effect on everyday Scots. It sounds simple, because it is. It’s some of the most important pieces of advice we give to our clients at Charlotte Street, when engaging with government – Be better, sooner.


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