THE Twitterisation of Scottish politics continued apace last week as the First Minister and her Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, took to social media following the remarks of former SNP MSP Andrew Wilson on BBC radio that Scotland was going to be the “worst performing economy in the developed world”.

Nonsense, said Ms Forbes. She accused the press of making it up by putting quotation marks around Mr Wilson's assertion. Yet putting direct quotes in headlines is precisely what newspapers do to avoid being accused of making things up.

Mr Wilson said what he said. He is no “yoon” malcontent. He authored the 2017 Scottish Government's Sustainable Growth Commission Report. And he is obviously right. If the UK has been the worst performing country coming out of the Covid crash, then Scotland is coming out even worse, because we are a UK backwater.

Scotland is an oil and services economy, with a strong tourist industry, world class educational assets and significant food and drink exports. These sectors have all fallen like ninepins and there is little sign of them recovering any time soon.

You almost literally can't give oil away right now – in April, the crude price actually went negative. The leisure economy is wrecked and what's left of retail is migrating from the high street to online retailers like Amazon who increasingly employ robots.

Tourism has stopped dead and that's hit agritourism – B&B and farm shops – which underpins farm incomes. Thanks to Brexit, farmers also face a flood of cheap imports from countries with lower food standards.

We don't make things any more, which is why a new industrial policy, of the kind proposed by organisations like Common Weal, is a huge ask. According to the Scottish Government's employment statistics, arts, entertainment and recreation alone account for nearly three times as many jobs as manufacturing. Or used to before Covid.

Our vision of how the economy works is decades out of date. Most people don't think of arts and entertainment as industry at all. The media obsesses about sectors like shipbuilding and steel-making which, while important, employ very few workers.

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Meanwhile many big employers – health, education, social work and other services – are in the public sector and financed by taxes. Yet even the most expansionist of governments is going to have to rein back public spending, at least to a degree.

The UK borrowed more than £55 billion in April and the debt pile is now larger than the entire UK economy. The state is currently supporting the incomes of half the population, if you include benefits. This can't continue.

Austerity is not the answer, of course, and fortunately no one is calling for it. The 2010 Tory public spending cuts were a disaster and prolonged the last recession. But even with the Bank of England printing money to keep interest rates low, taxes will have to rise to keep spending going.

Scotland does not have control of its own economy, lacking a currency and a central bank, so we are at the mercy of the UK Treasury. This is good and bad.

Good: Scotland gets billions of pounds in furlough payments and cash from the Barnett Formula (including a share of the £1bn for education announced by the UK government). Bad: the Scottish Government cannot redesign the economy along the environmental lines proposed by Mr Wilson's Growth Strategy. Nor can it introduce measures like Ms Sturgeon's favoured Universal Basic Income.

We are where we are. And that means very difficult choices. Nicola Sturgeon has ruled out raising taxes on the top income earners, by restoring the 50p tax rate, because they'll leave or avoid paying. At any rate, that is what her advisers tell her.

Yet, the collapse of the service economy is going to slash tax revenues. She may have no choice but to increase taxes on those remaining in work to pay for services like social care, even if this depresses the economy.

All of which is making Ms Sturgeon understandably ratty. She's only human. Most of us are finding life difficult in lockdown, but imagine being the First Minister making life-and-death decisions every day.

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Not only is she supposed to prevent another wave of coronavirus, she is expected to somehow restart the economy and education while still fighting the present one.

She faces the imminent return of mass unemployment in Scotland for the first time, really, since the Thatcherite 1980s. This is an unavoidable consequence of lockdown, yet she will still be blamed by voters who lose their jobs.

The Scottish Government was taken aback by the parents' revolt last week over John Swinney's “blended learning”. Ms Sturgeon had to step in to reassure parents that the educational prospects of a generation were not going to be wiped out.

She is promising a return to face-to-face teaching, but that will require pumping large sums into COSLA to pay for “pop up” schools and more teachers.

To make matters worse, there has been a marked change in scientific advice on coronavirus, which makes it doubly difficult to lift the 2-metre rule, the root of the problems.

At the beginning of the epidemic, the National Clinical Director, Professor Jason Leitch, argued that the virus could not be stopped and that we just had to learn to live with it while protecting the NHS.

Now, more radical advisers like Professor Devi Sridhar of Edinburgh University, who has a large following on Twitter, are telling her that Covid can and should be eliminated altogether.

Eradication requires tight border controls, rigorous test and trace and a renewed commitment to lockdown. This is very hard to do when Scotland has an open border with England, where lockdown is being relaxed. The Scottish NHS has not got test and trace in place. And businesses are screaming for lockdown to be eased.

Ms Sturgeon had a Twitter spat with an old adversary, the former Scottish Tory leader, Ruth Davidson, last week over the latter's claim she had given Ms Sridhar a “hair dryer” for speaking out of turn. The First Minster snapped back at this “disgraceful” suggestion. Ms Sridhar had “more integrity in her wee finger” than Ms Davidson.

It doesn't look good for the First Minister of Scotland to be spending time exchanging insults on social media. Twitter is a poisonous platform that subverts civilised debate and generates anger and negativity. There is a herd mentality on social media that turns almost any policy into a political rammy

The First Minister is an immensely capable politician in an impossible position. She is at the mercy of a fickle public opinion which wants to be kept safe but also wants to get on with their lives and livelihoods.

The inconvenient truth is that there is no “safe” way to deal with this crisis. Lockdown not only wrecks the economy it wrecks lives through mental illness, deschooling, domestic violence, poverty and illnesses going untreated.

The First Minister delayed introducing lockdown in March and has been criticised for doing so. Now she’s likely to be attacked for delaying the lifting of it. But politics is unfair. Ms Sturgeon might as well sideline the science and drop the 2-metre rule because she'll be damned whatever she does.

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