NO-one should be surprised by the weakness of trading on Scotland's high streets in November.

This is the fifth festive season in a row in which consumers have had to make purchasing decisions against a grim economic backdrop.

Chancellor George Osborne had for some reason believed, when he unveiled his debut Budget in June 2010, that the UK would be enjoying rapid growth by now.

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He expressed confidence about such an outcome even as he hiked the scale of the UK austerity programme, in terms of annual public spending cuts and tax hikes to be in place by 2014/15, by £40 billion to £113bn. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government's austerity programme involves hundreds of thousands of job cuts in the public sector, which is a vital employer in Scotland.

Mr Osborne was also swift to hike value-added tax from 17.5% to 20%. He has meanwhile embarked on severe cuts to welfare, and targeted tax credits for working families.

Events have certainly not unfolded as he said they would back in summer 2010. But, given the measures he has favoured, he should not be surprised there is now a significant danger of a triple-dip recession in the UK.

People are worried about job security. The VAT hike has hit household budgets, hammering those on lower incomes. And welfare cuts are weighing heavily on consumer spending.

The latest Scottish retail sales figures look like a gloomy harbinger of what the festive season will hold for retailers. Discounts will be at the front of people's minds, as the UK economic outlook remains an ever-present spectre.