Yesterday I walked across what the First Minister has rather hyperbolically dubbed “the greatest bridge in the world”.

It’s certainly impressive, and for any large infrastructure project to be completed more or less on time and on budget is worthy of congratulation. But a bridge is a bridge, what’s more interesting is the mood music it’s generating.

One SNP staffer even circulated a graphic on Twitter, framing the new Queensferry Crossing as symbolic of the Scottish Government’s desire to maintain a “bridge” between Scotland and the EU single market. Labour’s bridge, meanwhile, was small and pointless, and the Tories didn’t even have one.

But the main aim is to lay claim to a tangible legacy now that the SNP has spent more than a decade in devolved government. Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon linked the two in a recent speech, recalling that one of the “very early” decisions taken back in 2007 was “to move ahead with building a new bridge over the Forth”.

The First Minister also said it was part of the Scottish Government’s “wide-ranging plans to modernise the infrastructure of our country, many of them now realised”. Legacy is important to those who govern, particularly after such a long period in office, and usefully a new book edited by Gerry Hassan and Simon Barrow, “A Nation Changed?” analyses the past decade in some depth.

In the introduction, Hassan categorises the SNP’s “many achievements” as mainly presentational: a higher profile for the Scottish Government and office of First Minister, and for Scotland itself as a result of the long independence campaign. Electorally, of course, the party also made huge strides, moving from 33 per cent of the vote in 2007 to 46.5 per cent in 2016; support for independence increased significantly.

But what of the bread and butter, devolved responsibilities like health, education and economic development? Here the Scottish Government’s legacy is considerably less impressive. What, say, have been the three transformational achievements of the SNP since it was elected – amid considerable expectations – a decade ago?

If I were an SNP minister, I’d probably mention free university tuition, but beyond that it’s quite difficult to come up with anything. Besides, by any measurement the abolition of the graduate endowment (a much more progressive policy than many care to acknowledge) hasn’t made much impact on access for children from less affluent backgrounds.

Of course, there have been achievements, most notably when it comes to the equality agenda and criminal justice, but they hardly match the claim, regularly made, that the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalitions of 1999-2007 were incompetent and underachieving, while the SNP has “transformed” Scotland in the 10 years since. In fact, had the SNP not won in 2007, one imagines that other administrations would have done (and achieved) much the same, undistracted by an independence referendum.

Strikingly, even contributors to Hassan and Barrow’s book who are generally sympathetic struggle to muster much of a defence. “Looking back over the decade of SNP Government,” writes Martin Sime, chief executive of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, “it is remarkable to note how little has actually changed.” Well, quite. But then, as Sime adds, translating the “fine rhetoric of reform” into reality has often proved “problematic”.

The book tells a similar story when it comes to the economy. The economists Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, again far from hostile to the SNP or independence, renew their critique of the party’s over-reliance on what they call “neo-liberalism with a heart”, failing since 2009 to adapt to “radical changes in context”, something that puts the SNP in “grave danger of economic failure”, it being “quite clear” that the Scottish economy is “by no means performing well”.

Now I’ve argued before that the First Minister is demonstrably weak when it comes to economics (her predecessor at least talked a good game), and her recent speech at Spirit AeroSystems in Prestwick was a case in point. Although this was full of the usual talk about setting “clear and bold ambitions”, beyond another £45 million of Scottish Enterprise funding for research and development and yet another strategic board, it ultimately contained nothing new or particularly bold.

Seemingly taking her cue from novelist Andrew O’Hagan’s recent flight of fancy at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Sturgeon’s contention that Scotland will find itself at the frontier of technological change was also fundamentally unconvincing. How exactly will that happen? What specific advantages does Scotland have over other parts of the EU? And even were “Silicon Glen” to rise again, how exactly would a government which has hitherto shown no interest in redistributing wealth ensure, as the First Minister claims she would, that everyone shares in the resulting growth? Wishing, frankly, will not make it so.

The final week of the summer recess also saw another big policy speech, with Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson pledging to build 25,000 homes a year via eight “New Towns”, a proposal not only consistent with past Tory governments (Harold Macmillan oversaw a house-building boom in the 1950s) but perfectly pitched to Scots struggling to purchase their first home.

Davidson told the IPPR think-thank that her proposals would form part of a Scottish Tory drive to “try and turn a page” and focus on “the day job” of domestic issues rather than the constitutional question, the main Tory and SNP preoccupation since 2014. The fact that Davidson’s speech was attacked on the basis of past wrongs (ie Mrs Thatcher’s right-to-buy) rather than any point of substance, was highly revealing.

So, assuming there are no further electoral interruptions, the battleground for the next four years has been set, and mercifully it’ll be more concerned with policy than independence. That said, the SNP’s record in government is neither as bad as opponents allege nor as good as apologists claim, it’s just a bit, well, meh. No wonder Nationalists are pointing at a shiny new bridge and saying look! We built that!

Tomorrow’s Programme for Government, meanwhile, will most likely follow the usual pattern: trailed as “bold” and “radical” yet going no further than the usual tweaks, unsustainable giveaways and commissions. Today, no-one hails Gladstone for authorising the Forth Bridge, or Macmillan for giving the Forth Road Bridge the green light in the late 1950s. Infrastructure is undeniably important, but it’s bread-and-butter issues that count, and a bridge cannot mask a mediocre decade in government.