North of the border devotees of Robert Burns were last night raising a glass of something medicinal to toast the great poet and help wash down the traditional feast of sheep’s stomach and mashed turnip. Maybe some subversive types even sparked a cigar.

Those celebratory suppers came in the wake of a delay to the tobacco display ban, with the Scots authorities yesterday saying Imperial Tobacco’s ongoing court action made the October date for implementation “unrealistic”. No kidding.

“The two-year delay for small shops was an acknowledgement that these regulations would place a disproportionate burden on smaller, independent shops,” said Geoff Barrett of the Tobacco Retailers Alliance.

“The delay was a small step towards trying to level the playing field. I hope the Scottish government now pushes back the implementation date for small shops, or even better, scraps the ban altogether.”

Further south, independent retailers will have looked on with a twinge of hope – but mostly exasperation – at the latest twist in this increasingly tortuous saga.

In Whitehall, meanwhile, the silence is deafening. Almost nine months on from the election, the coalition has yet to say whether the display ban will take effect in England and Wales. As the Association of Convenience Stores put it today, confusion reigns.

“As ministers prevaricate on policy in England, and courts in England and Scotland consider legal challenges, uncertainty prevails and the retailer suffers,” said the body’s chief, James Lowman.

“The delays and lack of clarity are making the situation impossible for retailers across Britain. It is now time for a delay.”

The Grocer’s sister publication Convenience Store has been campaigning against the display ban since its inception.

And the trade remains united in its opposition to an unproven policy. But right now what it needs most is simply some clarity from a government whose best-laid plans, in terms of the economy at least, are already starting to unravel.

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