THE improvement in high street trading in Scotland in December, revealed in industry figures today, is welcome news indeed.

Scotland's retail sector had, by November, underperformed compared with the UK average in every month since early 2011 in terms of the year-on-year movement in sales value.

The Scottish Retail Consortium's December sales figures show a particular improvement in non-food sales, the more discretionary element of consumer spending.

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This leads the SRC to conclude that at least some Scottish consumers put aside worries about money and employment to spend on presents for friends and families. However, it says this appears to have been funded partly by a period of "economising".

We are now half way through January. Some of the bills for Christmas spending will be coming through the letterboxes. And there is still no sign there is any improvement in the macroeconomic outlook in the post. In fact, the economic indicators so far this year have been even more grim than those released late last year, and have signalled a danger of triple-dip recession.

To see the impact of protracted weakness in consumer confidence and economic activity, we need only look as far as the collapses in recent days of photographic retailer Jessops and entertainment goods chain HMV.

Lack of demand in the economy remains the big problem, and this is likely to be exacerbated by deep cuts in welfare spending and continuing job losses in the public sector.

Never mind Coalition re-launches. It's well past time for a re-think on how austerity is being pursued.