Today, the SNP will publish figures showing that household bills have risen in Scotland by 61% over the past five years.

Petrol is up 44%; food is up 37%. Meanwhile, wages have fallen in real terms by 5.5% in the last three years.

Remember the economic recovery? Following the royal baby, Andy Murray and some hot weather, the media announced recently that we had turned a corner and that we were now living in something called "boomtime Britain". A "barbecue bounce". Well, it didn't last very long. Last week, Ann Pettifor, an economist with Prime Economics, punctured the optimism by claiming that, far from boomtime Britain, we are living in Alice in Wongaland Britain - a neat phrase which is likely to stick to the UK Government like a bad smell.

What she means is that we are experiencing a collective economic delusion arising from austerity fatigue and Government propaganda. Far from the economy turning a corner, it is running on empty. Household debt in Britain is running at 153% of GDP - that is, around £2 trillion in real money. Moreover, wages have been falling in Britain in real terms for five years. So as debt rises, our ability to pay it off is falling.

The Westminster Government has generated the appearance of growth by boosting debt levels and inducing a generation of young families to buy houses they cannot truly afford - and the Government is also using public money to do this, by subsidising mortgages on £600,000 houses, mostly in the south of England. At today's lower interest rates, a mortgage like that will still cost around £30,000 a year. Even the Mad Hatter would have rejected this policy as the economics of the madhouse.

At the same time, we have near-zero interest rates which means that anyone who saves money is being robbed by high prices.

Today's Scottish statistics make for sobering reading and help explain why there has been little pick-up in the housing market north of the Border. The headline inflation figures conceal the reality: that essentials have risen very much faster in price than non-essentials. Food and fuel are rising, while items like computers have fallen in price. But you can't eat laptops.

The SNP Government is congratulating itself for having done its bit by freezing council tax since the big inflation began. But I'm not sure voters will be very grateful. They tend to take things like frozen taxes as a given, while getting angry - justifiably - over the fact they are getting poorer. This is a generational change that will define politics for the next couple of decades at least.

Since the Second World War, the citizens of developed countries like ours have become used to year-on-year increases in their standard of living. At the very least, each generation took it for granted that they would be better off than their parents' generation. We don't quite know what will happen when this comes to a halt, as it surely will with globalisation and competition from the cheaper, newly developed nations.

The one silver lining is that our population - as I noted last week - is greying, in that the number of over-60s is outstripping the number of under-25s. This ageing of Scotland is invariably cast as a problem, but it is better than the alternative. In many African and Middle Eastern countries, the age profile is very much younger and millions of young men find themselves unable to get themselves into secure jobs and homes. They are inclined to take to the streets in protest.

In older societies, there is more wealth stashed away in homes, pensions and savings - a total of £7.3 trillion, according to figures produced last week - and the over-60s don't suffer from rising expectations. Older people tend to want stability and security, and having been around the block a few times, they don't easily fall prey to the rhetoric of demagogues. Which is probably one reason why the Yes campaign is struggling right now.

Older people are less emotional about their politics and disinclined to take risks. It doesn't mean they are inherently conservative in an ideological sense - indeed, there is evidence that older people, many having been a product of 1960s radicalism, are ­actually more left-wing than the under-25s. They don't take free-market logic as a given, they value public services and have a history of seeking collective rather than individual solutions. At the very least, they are more inclined to vote in elections than younger people.

I take this to indicate that the referendum campaign is more finely balanced than the opinion polls suggest. Scots do not take to the streets to express their politics - they tend to secure change by activities such as tactical voting, which they used to devastating effect to destroy the Conservative Party in Scotland in the 1980s and 1990s. They are not likely to tell opinion pollsters that they want to break up Britain, even though they may be inclined to vote for autonomy.

Alex Salmond has come in for much criticism recently - including from Gordon Wilson, the former SNP leader - for not being sufficiently radical and socking it to the English. And there is frustration among some in the Yes Scotland campaign, including the chairman, Dennis Canavan, that the First Minister has been promoting too much of a "safety first" Nationalism.

It sometimes appears that, by keeping the Queen, the pound, the Bank of England, Nato etc, Salmond is robbing independence of any meaning.

But Salmond realised many years ago that Scots would only seek self-government if it could be achieved without disruption, expense, discontinuity, anger and conflict. Scots have a long and very bloody history, and they do not now go in for the politics of the rush of blood to the head. At a time of great economic uncertainty, it makes sense to appeal to the cool head rather than the angry heart.

What we know is that some 50-60% of Scots favour "devolution max" or a Parliament with enhanced economic powers. They are seeking the means to achieve this without having to confront Westminster, divide Britain and indulge in bitter argument about who owns what. What this referendum should be about is consolidating the gains of devolution and moving on to the next level of home rule. Unfortunately, this is the one thing that Scots cannot vote for in September 2014. We will be faced with a choice of unacceptable alternatives in a referendum we didn't really ask for.

The American statistician Nate Silver told the Edinburgh Book Festival last week that the Yes campaign had "no chance". I wouldn't be so sure. As with booming ­Britain, things can change very rapidly, and there is a long way still to go.