EVEN in these hard times, is it too much to expect an opposition to oppose now and again?

Yesterday's speech by Ed Miliband, on the eve of yet another round of austerity measures from Chancellor George Osborne, was a dispiriting affair.

Afraid of being branded profligate or a threat to the economy, the Labour leader told his party they must accept Osborne's cuts for 2015-16 as part of a "hard reality". Otherwise voters would not regard Labour as "credible" at the General Election otherwise, he warned.

But credibility requires consistency. Miliband and his shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, previously argued the Coalition cuts were driven by Tory ideology and a desire to shrink the state as much as possible by economic necessity.

But in choosing to accept rather than reverse those same cuts, Labour inevitably perpetuates that same ideology.

Even as economists and the International Monetary Fund warn that the UK economy is at risk of overdosing on austerity, Labour refuse to offer an alternative way.

Miliband may argue that Labour's policies are very different, but accepting the cuts means living with their policy implications and limitations as well.

Under Tony Blair, sharp suits and bright ties were the uniform of New Labour. Miliband's One Nation Labour seem to think only those in hairshirts are electable.

But this is not the case. Indeed, the smaller the differences between Labour and the Conservatives, the fewer reasons voters have to trade one for the other.

In marked contrast, this weekend also sees more developments in the Common Weal project, the left-wing vision of a fairer, more equal and economically healthier Scotland, founded on the best policies of Scandinavia and Germany.

As we report today, the Church of Scotland is looking seriously at the concept, and SNP activists will have a chance to debate it as they gather for their October conference. The Kirk's engagement reinforces the point that Common Weal originated in civic society, not party politics.

It starts from a simple proposition: What do we want for Scotland and how do we get there? It is an optimistic approach – and realistic about the consequences for tax.

When set next to Labour's narrow, pinched vision of the future – "What have we got and how do we manage with less?" – it is easy to see which idea might excite the public more.

The first year of the referendum has not, as Alex Salmond puts it, been a "phoney war", but it has been one fought by the relatively small battalions of the political class.

Let us hope ideas like Common Weal and high-profile party debates can change that.