Trieste, as travel writer Jan Morris once wrote, is a "hallucinatory city", where "fantasy easily brushes fact".

For years a thriving Hapsburg port, it then changed hands between Italy, Germany and Yugoslavia before becoming a "Free City" after the Second World War and, in 1954, returning to Italian sovereignty.

Morris entitled her short, lyrical book on the city Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, a place that had enchanted writers (such as James Joyce), travellers, exiles and misfits over the decades.

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I spent the weekend there and it felt like a place apart, far removed from the dysfunctional politics of the Italian mainland, and a ferry trip - down the beautiful Dalmatian coast - away from Patras in Greece.

Of course the news, in these digital days, is everywhere: not only domestic UK politics in the months before an unpredictable general election, but in Greece following the rather more predictable outcome of their recent ballot. Both, however, are places where - as Morris wrote - "fantasy easily brushes with fact".

The economic facts in both countries are challenging. Despite simplistic narratives of financial calamity imposed from above, in the UK and Greece the events that led to the financial crisis were collective hubris: anyone who maxed out on a credit card or borrowed six times their salary for a mortgage was asking for trouble. In Greece there was corruption and widespread tax avoidance. Of course there were degrees of culpability, but you get my point.

So the idea that no one need suffer in putting the situation right is risible. This doesn't mean, as right-wing ideologues would have us believe, that "austerity" is inevitable; far from it: there are good arguments against it as a means of righting financial wrongs, but any alternative would still involve thrift, discipline and sacrifice hitherto unknown in the last generation or so.

Of course it's comforting to pretend otherwise, but that's when politics as the art of the possible gives way to the politics of fantasy. Last September it peaked when everything was viewed through a hopelessly simplistic prism; voting "yes" or "no" to austerity or neoliberal economics may have made for lively referendum campaigning, but it bore little relation to reality.

Fantasy politics, however, seems to be catching. Judging from Twitter and Facebook over the past week, some of those active in the referendum campaign were out in force in Athens, imbibing the heady atmosphere of a democratic "rejection" of austerity and keen to depict it as part of a broader trend in Western European politics.

The new Common Space website, a digital offshoot of the Common Weal agenda, even tried valiantly to turn the Scottish Government's bland response to the Greek election into an endorsement. "We note the result of the Greek election," said an unnamed press officer, "which of course was an internal matter for the people of Greece, and it is important that this democratic decision is respected."

"In terms of the wider issues involved," added the statement, "the Scottish government will continue to play a full and constructive role in helping drive economic recovery and growth across Europe and beyond." So no mention of "austerity", for, much like the SNP's woolly stance on fracking, it isn't so much against austerity, but against doing it badly.

Despite the framing of last September's referendum, when Nicola Sturgeon made her first major speech as First Minister to Scotland's business community she was rather more orthodox. "We all know that budgets need to be kept under control, and the deficit and debt reduced," she said, going on to observe that "badly-targeted austerity" had failed to "bring down the deficit in the way the UK Government predicted", which rather implied there was such a thing as "well-targeted" austerity.

Of course this is the sort of detail that the Left, in Scotland and beyond, regards as tedious capitalist pedantry. "Syriza, Podemos, Sinn Fein, the SNP," the Guardian columnist George Monbiot wrote a few days ago, "now a bright light is shining in England too, as the Green party stokes the radical flame that Labour left to gutter." Indeed the Scottish Green Party hailed the Greek election as "a victory for a coalition of the radical left against austerity".

Only the Green Party's grasp of economics (austerity or otherwise) was revealed to be pretty shaky when the BBC's Andrew Neil had the audacity to ask Natalie Bennett to account for the £240 billion cost of funding a "citizen's income" for every Briton. She couldn't, of course, but then Ms Bennett subscribes to the faith-based "politics of hope" rather than that scary thing known as the real world, so the magic money tree is wheeled out in place of detailed policy.

The same is true of Podemos in Spain, whose supporters recently gathered en masse in Madrid. But while its recent growth in support is impressive, its leaders are better endowed with charisma than they are with credible alternatives to the economic status quo. To be fair, Syriza has long advocated a more specific agenda of debt forgiveness, public sector job creation and increasing the minimum wage, which is at least coherent if not likely to succeed.

Sure, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens recently committed to an "anti-austerity alliance", but again all three were short on detail. And, more to the point, "Scotland is not Greece", as SSP leader Colin Fox put it yesterday. "Economically, socially and politically the differences are profound." However deep the cuts have been, Scotland is not about to elect a properly left-wing party.

Fantasy politics, meanwhile, is by no means restricted to nationalists and socialists. Even David Cameron, the architect of British austerity, promises "full employment" and further (uncosted) tax cuts if re-elected, while readers of certain London-based newspapers have recently been force-fed Churchillianic nostalgia that buys into the myth that the UK of the 1940s and 1950s was somehow an ideal society. Ukip may hark back to a better yesterday (as did the SDP in the 1980s), but politically the past can be as much of a fantasyland as the future.

Meanwhile Alex Salmond, still de-mob happy despite his successor's obvious irritation at his daily pronouncements, recently revealed that his fantasyland was even older. Robert the Bruce, he told BuzzFeed, "came into my mind quite a bit during the referendum campaign". This association, he added, made some of his advisers "very uncomfortable...but I think your soul would have to be dead not to be inspired by it". In that case, the Scotland of 2015 must be sustaining rather a lot of dead souls.

When Scotland came under attack from England seven centuries ago the nearby Republic of Venice was eyeing Trieste territorially, but historical flights of fancy don't usually lead anywhere particularly useful. Back in the real world politics is tough, grubby and a place where fact usually trumps fantasy.