There was good news in Scottish Government data revealing that gross domestic product fell by only 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2011. Contraction is not generally a good thing, but the fall was less steep than the 0.3% drop in economic output in the UK in the final three months of last year.
Meanwhile, figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium revealed that March saw the first year-on-year rise in retail sales value in Scotland since December.
A survey from business recovery specialist Begbies Traynor showed a fall in distress levels among Scottish businesses, comparing the opening three months of this year with the first quarter of 2011.
And Entrepreneurial Exchange chief executive John Anderson highlighted an increased appetite for expansion among his members, although Bank of England data has signalled continuing troubles for businesses in securing finance for investment nearly four years after the start of the recession.
Sadly, but almost inevitably, data from the Office for National Statistics last month revealed the UK had suffered the double-dip recession. A 0.2% fall in GDP in the opening three months of this year was the second consecutive quarter of contraction.
This was a reminder that, while it is important to seize on positive signs in this grim economic period, the outlook remains challenging. Double-dip had looked inevitable ever since the Government ramped up the scale of the public spending cuts and tax rises to be in place by 2014/2015 by £40 billion per annum to an annual £113bn in Chancellor George Osborne's first Budget nearly two years ago.
The eurozone's troubles have not helped, but the Coalition is wrong to point the finger across the Channel. The Westminster Government should instead look at shattered consumer confidence at home, not helped by its claim in 2010 that the UK was on the brink of bankruptcy, and at the burden which the household sector has yet to bear from public spending cuts.
The Coalition's confidence that a clampdown on the public sector would unleash some private sector miracle was just plain wrong.
Any notion that public sector spending was "crowding out" private sector investment, given the massive spare capacity which had opened in the economy as a result of the plunge in output during 2008/09, was nonsense.
Yes, the rise in public sector debt which arose because of the global economic downturn had to be tackled. But it can be tackled with tax revenues that stem from growth, not from public spending cuts. Too much austerity can be counter-productive, as we have now seen.
First Minister Alex Salmond continues to plead for Westminster to provide £300 million to finance "shovel-ready" capital projects north of the Border. Some stimulus is clearly needed, given the amount of aggregate demand the coalition has sucked out of the UK economy.
It is interesting that, even in countries such as the Netherlands, the wisdom of extreme austerity is being questioned. It always looked as if the austerity medicine advocated by the International Monetary Fund might do countries more harm than good. Recent developments would appear to confirm that the IMF, and some governments, got the dosage wrong.
Maybe the US, which is showing solid growth, was looser on the fiscal strings because of its experience of the Great Depression in the 1930s. However, lessons were there for all to read and there were enough experts warning of the dangers of cutting too fast too soon, including those of Stirling University professor and former Monetary Policy Committee member David Blanchflower.
Some commentators say that Scotland might have avoided renewed recession – although Scottish first-quarter GDP numbers are not due until July.
However, there is little reason for pinning too much expectation on such a prospect.
Given how closely Scotland has been tracking the UK as a whole, it would seem likely the economy here will also have suffered.
An analysis of figures from the Accountant in Bankruptcy by accountancy firm PKF showed a record number of Scottish companies went bust in the first quarter of this year.
That said, it is important to look forward. While some firms continue to fight to survive – in many cases through no fault of their own – others are prospering.
Innovation and, where appropriate, internationalisation remain more important than ever.
Times ahead will be tough but businesses already have four years of experience of dealing with a grim economic situation. n