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Bottomless cynicism versus optimism and hope

Politicians too often marvel at the "brilliance" of their maneuverings while missing its ugly effect.

George Osborne's spending round this week brought this trait to the fore, as he received plaudits for ruthless political calculation and the way he had set various booby traps and tripwires for Labour ahead of the General Election, by daring them to reverse his latest austerity cuts.

But the spending review was not something to savour as a political spectacle, but rather an occasion to deplore as a human tragedy,

For all the presentational gloss, what the Chancellor essentially did was to lacerate public services, toy with the unemployed and casually press-gang millions of struggling families into the Conservatives' election strategy.

His was a bottomless cynicism.

Now, as we report today, some of the uglier truths of Wednesday's statement are becoming clearer through a Treasury document produced to accompany the main statement.

The Scottish Government has compared its small print with that of Osborne's March budget.

Osborne is correct when he says that the richest 20% in society will continue to pay the most in absolute terms as a result of Coalition policy changes, largely though tax increases.

But it is those in the poorest 20% who will lose more relatively than any other group.

Worse, they will suffer most as a result of the spending review, because, comparing the budget predictions for 2014-15 with the review's for 2015-16, it is this group alone which will see its position decline year on year.

For the poorest, things will go from bad to worse. For everyone else, they will go from bad to not quite as bad.

The reason is that cuts to benefits and public services disproportionately affect the poorest, because they are the section of society who, by necessity, have the greatest reliance on them.

Yet the Chancellor talks of those with the broadest shoulders bearing the burden.

These are empty words and Labour at Westminster should be challenging them head on instead of accepting Osborne's numbers for 2015-16 and all the misery they imply.

Labour's passivity reveals another truth. While it would be wrong to suggest that people in England are somehow less caring than those in Scotland, the political establishment at Westminster and the political establishment at Holyrood do appear to be on divergent paths.

Of course, the SNP Government has not had to make those big decisions over tax and welfare, because it lacks the power to do so.

But its priorities are different, a point it makes as part of the independence debate.

That debate should be about how Scots see themselves, and the direction they want to take as a society.

So far, the debate has failed to come to life, but there are green shoots in sight.

As we also report today, the increasingly popular Common Weal vision of Scotland adopting the progressive policies of the Nordic countries has two new advocates, former SNP business minister Jim Mather and the respected political academic, Professor Ian Budge.

Avowedly pro-business, Mather could hardly be described as a socialist dreamer, making his support for Common Weal of particular note.

If he is able to sell its vision of a diverse, skills and research-based economy on the German model as successfully as he sold the SNP to the business community, it should attract more intriguing converts.

One attractive aspect of Common Weal is that its origins lie outside the tribal boundaries of Labour and the SNP, giving it the potential for genuine cross-party appeal.

It has also introduced a sense of vision to a debate that has lacked it.

Above all, it is about thinking big and thinking long, about asking that central question of the referendum: what kind of Scotland do we want and how do we achieve it?

Its central thesis, that we should create a fairer, more equal society to benefit the many, not the few, and be grown-up about paying for it, speaks to these broken times.

If the Yes campaign is to improve its fortunes, embracing the Common Weal may be the answer.

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