Out-Law News 2 min. read

What to expect from Humza Yousaf’s new programme for government

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After the launch of April’s policy prospectus was largely overshadowed by other events, Humza Yousaf will be hoping that his first programme for government as Scotland’s first minister next week is able to clearly articulate his plans for the year ahead.  

Since taking office, Yousaf’s tenure as first minister has been beset by challenges – many beyond his control – which have hindered his ability to not only make progress on the Scottish government’s legislative agenda, but also grow his public profile. Indeed, of the 18 new bills announced in last years’ programme for government, only 12 have been introduced to Holyrood, and of these only three have made it past the first stage of the legislative process.

Tensions within the SNP over the cooperation agreement with the Scottish Green Party have also intensified, with senior party figures calling for SNP members to be given a vote on whether the deal should continue in its current form or, indeed, at all. For his part, Yousaf has been steadfast in his commitment to the agreement, but this dynamic will not be far from his mind as he seeks to deliver his own agenda in government.

Some of the first minister’s recent actions have been well-received in business circles, including the decision to withdraw a consultation on banning alcohol marketing, and the establishment of the ‘new deal for business’ group, which has been tasked with reducing the regulatory burden facing businesses. Next week’s programme for government presents the first minister with a tangible opportunity to set out what he wants to deliver in the forthcoming legislative year – one which may overlap with a UK general election in 2024.

Businesses should expect to see the eradication of poverty and the creation of a ‘wellbeing economy’ take centre stage in Yousaf’s programme, alongside policies to drive a ‘just transition’ to net zero. It could also include announcements on infrastructure, specifically around improvements to the A9. Though last year’s programme was pitched as a focused response to the cost-of-living crisis, with households and businesses still facing acute challenges, new measures to tackle the crisis are likely to be front and centre this year too.

Next week’s programme will also offer an insight into whether the Scottish government will stand by its commitment to keep legislation off the statute book that would otherwise layer additional burdens onto businesses. For example, proposed restrictions on alcohol advertising, postponed earlier this year, could make a comeback. The programme could also include detail of whether minimum unit pricing for alcohol will continue beyond May 2024 and what will happen after rent cap provisions cease in March next year, as well as any further reform of the non-domestic rates system.

Amid concerns that some SNP voters could shift to support Scottish Labour, the first minister has already made clear that he will put independence at the heart of his party’s manifesto for next year’s general election. In this context, the SNP’s raison d’etre could well underpin much of the Scottish Government’s legislative programme, as Yousaf seeks to consolidate the support of his party base.

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