The former director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, current chairman of both the low pay and pensions commissions, and vice-chairman of Merrill Lynch Europe, was brought up in East Kilbride, where his father was a town planner.

Rummaging around recently in his father's study in Argyll, he came across an old copy of the Scotsman, from the mid-1960s. It was predicting Scotland's population would hit seven million by the end of the century and warning that, without massive investment, our infrastructure simply couldn't cope.

Turner is no sucker for magic answers to complex economic problems. So, having just been named among Prospect magazine's top 100 public intellectuals in the UK, he was a smart choice to draw together and assess the seven contributions which, since last October, have made up the Allander series on Scotland's economic future.

When we talked yesterday, his first caution was about that perennial Scottish failing - seeing the glass as half-empty. ''Scotland mustn't get too moany about its performance, because it's not all that bad,'' he urged. A country that, by 1900, had become ''the most industrialised area in the whole of Europe'', with nearly half its working-age population in manufacturing, was bound to face ''incredible shocks to the system'' when shipbuilding and the rest went into decline.

Turner believes it is to Scotland's credit that its economy has picked up since the 1970s and closed the gap against English levels of prosperity. He can readily see GDP per capita continuing to grow well into the future at around 2% a year. But that, he warns, disguises a different set of challenges. ''If nothing changes, then Scotland might be in a process of steadily rising individual prosperity but a slower rate of growth of national income overall because of Scotland's declining population,'' he explains.

That process, as US economist Paul Krugman warned in the series, could become self-reinforcing, leading to a less-dynamic, less-exciting place, one that young Scots will be only too glad to leave behind. Turner says he was particularly startled by the finding, in Heather Joshi's contribution to the series, that 41% of Scottish graduate women were still childless between the ages of 45 and 49, compared with less than 30% of the same female group south of the border. ''That is a phenomenon we find in every European country, but it's much higher here than anywhere else in north-west Europe.''

For some unexplained reason, this group of Scottish women is aping the fertility levels of the Latin south of Europe, not the north. Scotland's central challenge, he believes, is how to make itself a more attractive place for families to come and live in and for companies to invest in. The Allander series offers, in Turner's view, some provocative challenges about how that might be achieved. Inspired by Ed Glaeser's ''suburbs good, car good'' contribution to the series, Turner argues that Scotland can trade on something it has plenty of: space.

He argues that a '' looser approach to planning'' in the suburbs around Scotland's cities and in rural areas could persuade a lot more younger, skilled couples with children to come and live here. He dismisses as ''nonsense'' any notion that an economy increasingly focused on servicing the needs of such groups has run up the white flag on the need to go on making things. ''As people get richer, two things happen. The world is increasing good at working out how to manufacture what we all need using fewer and fewer people. And, while there's a limit to how many washing machines we'll ever want, there is no limit to how many restaurants, theatres or holidays we want. The move to a service-dominated economy is the inevitable consequence of getting richer.''

Turner admits low rates of corporate tax were an important ingredient in Ireland's catch-up story with the developed world since the 1970s. Being English-speaking, within the European free trade area and offering rock-bottom corporate tax burdens were, he acknowledges, a ''killer combination''. However, Turner also warns that ''low corporate taxation is not a free lunch''. He believes it will either lead to higher rates of personal taxation or lower public spending. And this consummate Whitehall insider offers a further pointed warning: ''It's simply not going to be allowed within the UK because it will be seen as a beggar-my-neighbour policy.

If Scotland is allowed it, the north-east will want it. It's only possible with independence.'' On skills, he warns against simple ''cliche-ridden'' prescriptions about the need to upskill to compete. However, his biggest surprise was that Nobel prize winner James Heckman - from the ''pure creed of free market'' thinking associated with the Chicago School of Economics - was unleashed on Scotland's policymaking community. ''That was quite brave of Wendy Alexander and the other organisers,'' he says.

Heckman's emphasis on early-stage intervention - particularly in a country with a demographic problem, where fertility is currently highest among some of the poorest social groups - has clearly struck a chord with Turner. He echoes the view of Tom Hunter, one of the main sponsors of the series, that the case for investing significantly more in the early years of our children's education is now ''compelling''.

Turner argues that nursery and primary education are now ''probably more important than further expansion of higher education'' and urges Scotland's policymakers to focus more of their attention there. The message may not be going entirely unheard. After all, first minister Jack McConnell also spoke at the final Allander series seminar last night. And he said something exceptional for a Scottish Labour politician.

He confessed that Scotland's public sector is ''too big''. He is not promising to take an axe to public provision. He is, however, promising to improve its productivity. In addition, he wants to rebalance our economy by creating the conditions in which the private sector can grow. The Allander series set out to encourage fresh thinking about our economic destiny. Could it be that some of the seeds it has sown are beginning to sprout?