IT’S springtime for Hammond. The Chancellor sees the green shoots of economic recovery positively bursting through the slush left from the winter chill. Growth is up, borrowing is down. There’s light at the end of the tunnel – an unfortunate image, which allowed cartoonists to suggest that the light was from an oncoming train called the Brexit Express.

This was a not-the-Budget statement of a kind which should have become redundant when they moved the actual Budget to November. But there is a Budget-shaped hole in the news schedules in March and Chancellors can’t resist filling it – with self-aggrandising waffle. An attempt to distract the nation from the reality that Britain is engaged in the greatest act of economic self-harm since the return to the Gold Standard in 1925.

Spreadsheet Phil was ordered to get out there and put a brave face on Brexit, and he duly obliged, insisting that he was Tigger, a stuffed animal from Winnie the Pooh with an exuberant, optimistic demeanour. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies was having none of it. “ Not that much to be Tiggerish about here”, tweeted its Eeyorish boss, Paul Johnson. “Growth forecasts dreadful compared with what we thought in March 2016, dreadful by historical standards and dreadful compared with most of the rest of the world.”

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But at least we keep breaking records: longest period of wage stagnation since Napoleonic wars; lowest growth rate in G7; longest five-year forecast of sub-1.5 per cent growth in Britain for more than a century. And all this even before we hit the Brexit buffers. British high streets are populated with tumbleweed as consumers wilt under falling real pay, high borrowing costs and record levels of debt. Wages, on some calculations are down by 10 per cent on pre-crash levels. As the Joseph Rowntree Foundation pointed out, punitive cuts to benefits are still in the pipeline. Poverty is up, especially among working families.

It needn’t be this way. Britain’s recovery compares dismally with the roaring return to job-creating growth of America, which delivered 315,000 jobs last month alone. Donald Trump is claiming credit for this, though it is really a legacy of Barack Obama’s $800 billion fiscal expansion begun in 2010.

We’re so used to reading Brexit propaganda that few appreciate just how far the Eurozone has also turned the economic corner. Growth is streets ahead of Britain, unemployment is falling fast and the Eurozone debt crisis is largely forgotten. The real threat to European growth this year is Brexit itself, though the Central Bank believes that the recovery can even weather that economic shock. This is not something that can be said with confidence about Scotland.

Scotland hardly figured in the Chancellor’s statement, possibly because growth here is lower even than in the UK, despite the recovery in the North Sea oil industry (crude reached $70 a barrel last month). This means that the impact of the Brexit Express will be magnified north of the Border. Fraser of Allander is forecasting falls in the block grant of 1.2 per cent in 2019/20. That’s enough to gobble up most of the revenue from this year’s income tax hike by the Scottish Government. And it can’t keep hiking taxes year on year. In the medium term, the fall in immigration is likely to make the public finances even tighter. Nearly all the growth in Scotland’s population until around 2040 is supposed to be provided by immigrants coming to work here and pay taxes to fund expensive social care costs. But if the current fall in EU immigration continues, these valuable workers just won’t be there.

As The Herald reported yesterday, this is posing acute problems for Scotland valuable higher education sector. International students are being discouraged by UK immigration policies which put pressure on visas. The message has been conveyed that Britain no longer wants the brightest and the best from Europe or Asia. The drop-off in international students, paying on average £30,000 fees, could squeeze standards and diminish the international rankings of Scotland’s many world-class universities.

What can the Scottish Government do? It’s already bitten the bullet and increased income taxes, even on some families earning the basic rate. This is a responsible policy, whatever the Conservatives claim. Living in Scotland is a bargain (especially for those on the “additional rate” of £150,000 who got a free pass in the Scottish budget). Benefits like free university tuition and elderly care tend to disproportionately benefit the better off, so they’re actually saving a fortune. Young people are leaving English universities with crushing debts of more than £50,000 and even Theresa May admits tuition fees are unsustainable.

But there is no sign that the UK Government is looking to reform the taxation system in the way Nicola Sturgeon has. Mr Hammond only offered tentative suggestions for a plastics tax. Yet, national debt has risen to £2 trillion, the NHS – in England at least – is in a state of almost permanent crisis and local authorities are unable to meet their obligations to social care. Higher taxes are not a virtue in themselves, and in some cases can inhibit economic growth. There is a case for lowering taxes on the working poor. But as bodies like the Institute for Fiscal Studies have repeatedly advised, there is no way that we can have American levels of taxation and European levels of social provision.

British economic policy has always been a shambles, but the last decade has been little short of an abdication of responsibility, a failure of the Government’s duty of care to the productive economy. All the evidence indicates that voters want an end to austerity, and that economic recovery is inconceivable without it. Of course, things are not all bad, and the balancing of the current account is a positive sign. The debt pile, currently 85 per cent of GDP, isn’t going to rise much in the coming years. But the country is facing the biggest economic upheaval since the Second World War in a state of wilful unpreparedness.