It is, partly, our fault. To some extent, we get the election we deserve, while permitting the candidates to pay little heed to the huge, stomping, snorting mammoth in the corner of the room.

That giant beast? Scotland’s underwhelming economic performance, with output and productivity lagging behind that of comparably sized nations such as Denmark and Norway.

The shadow of the mammoth was delineated once more this week in an Oxford Economics report for Sir Tom Hunter’s foundation. It told a familiar story.

Yes, Scotland does better than other areas of the UK, London apart. However, we have problems with our birth rate, both in terms of population and business start-ups.

Further, those businesses which do get going tend not to grow rapidly or significantly. Our productivity is a concern: we need to diversify our economy, not least in the North Sea where oil and gas are declining assets.

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Do I see the mammoth twitch its ears at these comments? Perhaps, like the canine world, it is alert to the high-pitched whistles which customarily sound at such points.

Dog whistle one, directed at supporters of opposition parties. It is all the fault of the incumbent Scottish or UK governments. If only they would adopt our policies.

Up to a point, Lord Copper. Underlying economic problems in Scotland predate the present administrations. Indeed, they predate devolution.

Dog whistle two, aimed at supporters of independence. The problems rest solely with the Union. Political independence would liberate our economy, permitting us to match the performance of our Nordic chums.

The Oxford Economics report does say that some of the remedies to the problems they diagnose rest with UK action, notably on taxation. Further, they argue that Brexit has made the situation worse.

However, they add that devolved Scotland needs to pay more heed – and cash – to the issue of economic development, while removing obstacles to growth.

Perhaps we might consider that the solution need not lie solely with constitutional change. Supporters of independence do not have to take my word for that: they can read chapter and verse in another report, this one produced for the SNP.

In 2018, the party’s Growth Commission, chaired by Andrew Wilson, produced a lengthy and thoughtful study.

Mr Wilson noted then that independence was no “magic wand”: that there was a need to be “candid” about the challenges, in addition to optimistic about the opportunities. He said hope must conquer fear but must also be “grounded in clear-sighted reality and a rigorous plan”.

This largely presaged the diagnosis set out in this week’s Oxford Economics study but went on to generate a composite cure of its own making, focused upon the need to grow GDP through “productivity, population and participation”.

Tell me this. Are you hearing much in this election with regard to the economy which is either clear-sighted or rigorous? Are you hearing much in the way of detailed discourse at all?

Are you hearing instead voluble, if inevitably inconclusive, argument about the date of the next independence referendum? From both sides of that debate.

Further, are you hearing endless promises as to additional expenditure in the Parliament ahead, with minimal reference to our economic and fiscal circumstances? Post pandemic, remember, while we still struggle to recover from the banking crisis of 2008.

In the corner of the election room, the rough beast shakes its head, slowly and ponderously.

When we hear such unalloyed promises, pests like me tend to ask “where is the money coming from?” Such was always my habit and I am revisiting it in a podcast series being prepared for The Herald.

From experience, replies vary but, mostly, they range from unspecified growth to “efficiency savings” (the resort of every administration since the Pharaohs). If pressed, my interlocutors may argue that “we cannot afford NOT to spend this money.”

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Incidentally, they will always talk of “investment”, rather than “spending”. Somehow, that irks me. I know, I know, pitiably petty, but there it is.

Look, I get the concept. I know the notion is that we are investing in future generations. I applaud that endeavour. But let us not fool ourselves. Politicians talk of investment, rather than cash, because they know it is a comforting euphemism for the taxpayers.

There is another element to this debate. This week’s report presumes that we want to grow GDP, that it is an agreed objective, if the methods remain disputed. But is that entirely true?

The Greens, for example, question the value of Gross Domestic Product as a touchstone. Nicola Sturgeon, too, has advanced the concept that we might need a different set of values, encompassing human well-being rather than financial growth.

Again, I applaud this endeavour. It is right and proper to examine the basis upon which we found our polity.

However, as Ms Sturgeon and others have recognised, we need to do more than to restate our objective as well-being. We need to define that objective itself and to specify policies which might generate advancement in pursuit of that aim.

Otherwise, we risk substituting a warm glow for rigorous governmental policy, precisely as Andrew Wilson warned in his 2018 report. We risk copying Voltaire’s Pangloss and believing that we can all too easily create a situation in which “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.

Again, to some extent, we are collectively culpable of pushing our politicians in a Panglossian direction. We say we want the hard facts: give it to us straight. But do we? Really?

Would we not rather hear of more for the NHS, more for schools, what about transport, and don’t forget the pensioners? Do we not groan, inwardly, if a candidate starts talking about tax policy?

The great philosopher John Stuart Mill pursued his principle of Utility, arguing that happiness is the only true object, that actions must be judged by the extent to which they generate such contentment.

The danger is that we only want to hear about happiness – gaun yersel’, JSM. We are less inclined to heed the other half of the Micawber principle, that misery may ensue if expenditure is not soundly based.

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