War is the great distraction. Right or wrong, foolish or wise, it suspends all the usual political and economic rules. Suddenly a chancellor who has spent five and a half years telling us “there is no money” can find ready billions for warfare.

Though he might not wish it, George Osborne has been luckier than most. In what passed until recently for normal times, he would have approached today’s Autumn Statement under a black cloud of derision. To follow the tax credits debacle with the worst October borrowing figures in six years is more than just another bit of bad luck. Even in his own, narrow terms, Mr Osborne is bad at his job.

Carnage and fear have, reasonably enough, given us other things to worry about. A chancellor’s task in an international crisis is to ensure that his Prime Minister has sufficient funds with which to keep the islands safe. It is not (or not directly) Mr Osborne’s job to say whether F-35 Stealth aircraft are a lousy buy, or whether increasing billions should be earmarked for a Trident system that could be hacked by a laptop jockey. He just finds the cash.

Recently, however, the Chancellor has taken to saying that you can’t have national security without economic security. It isn’t a new proposition, but Mr Osborne tried it for size again during his latest chat with the BBC’s Andrew Marr. Convoluted logic had him claiming, in essence, that you can’t fight terrorism unless he “balances the books”. It was a bold claim, not least because you could turn it on its head.

Various police chiefs have stepped up to say that another round of Mr Osborne’s cuts will leave them ill-prepared to deal with events of the sort witnessed in Paris. How’s that for a “long-term economic plan”? The funding for defence the Chancellor has meanwhile just discovered in the Treasury accounts in large part reinstates cash he has already cut. How’s that for shrewd economic management?

The point is that the observation does not just apply to defence. Mr Osborne is improvising, even as his plans to eradicate a budget deficit – it was supposed to be gone by now – dissolve into a pile of excuses. So today, reportedly, he “finds” £3.8 billion to hold a politically-inconvenient winter crisis in NHS England at bay, as though winter has just been discovered.

The reality is that the Chancellor is bringing forward one part of the £8.4bn the English NHS was meant to spend a couple of years from now. And that sum – part of it still devoted to breaking junior doctors – was only supposed to keep the service alive while trusts edge towards insolvency. There is nothing “long-term” about this: it’s ad hoc, another skinned rabbit from a battered hat.

Mr Osborne clings to the assumption that the only answer to a big borrowing problem is to cut spending hard and fast. When that doesn’t work, you cut again. If you meanwhile wish to lead the Tory Party and win a general election, you aim for an absurd budget surplus, detrimental to the wider economy, that might give scope for tax cuts circa 2020. And where does this austerity lead? To an £8.2bn government borrowing requirement in October, despite all previous cuts in state spending.

Mr Osborne has become a fan of the “bumps in the road” excuse. He has had considerable practise in the art. One month’s numbers, he would say, are of no importance. Just look – as he informed Mr Marr – at the growth in the UK’s GDP. And there’s a conundrum. If this kingdom, so much better together, is growing in any sense the Treasury can count, why were tax receipts so abysmal as to require a 16 per cent increase in October borrowing? As ever, the Chancellor’s claims don’t stack up.

His admirers reckon that Mr Osborne is politically astute. The tax credits mess, utterly unnecessary unless you believe in dreams of a surplus, suggested otherwise. If he tries to dig himself out of his hole today by shifting the cuts to housing benefit, less-polite antonyms for “astute” will be handy. To persecute exactly the same people by different means might strike the Chancellor’s Westminster friends as clever. Everyone else will ask if he really does mean to dig his way to China, where they keep the free money.

Yesterday, the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) Scotland issued another of those “challenges for Holyrood” reports. The document worked with a pair of assumptions, given what we know about Mr Osborne and his “long-term” guesses. One says that “unprotected” spending could fall by 26.5 per cent, another that the Chancellor has a 40 per cent cut in mind.

Crudely, things such as justice, councils and employment could face reductions of 9.2 per cent or 13.5 per cent by 2019/20. This at a time, as we reported on Monday, when Scottish local government is telling Mr Osborne that more cutting will simply end fundamental public services. It follows David Cameron’s astonishing letter to the leader of (Tory) Oxfordshire County Council complaining that cuts to elderly day centres were “disappointing”.

In the IPPR’s terms, Holyrood will face “choices” from all of this. Thus: if or when the mess bequeathed by Lord Smith of Kelvin is resolved, the Scottish Government might be able to borrow or tax to mitigate the effects of the Chancellor’s leadership bid. Mr Osborne, like Tories north and south, would of course denounce either policy automatically. They would still recommend more cuts even when a police chief, or a Tory council leader in Oxfordshire, says there is nothing more to cut.

Those who insist that the Scottish Parliament must use the powers it has or will acquire prefer to forget the obvious: Mr Osborne is the Chancellor. The economy of which we are a part is in his hands. His decisions can only be ameliorated, now and then, with luck. The arc of austerity – the slogan is free, if he wants it – persists. He is destroying the public realm and many lives because he cares nothing, on the evidence, for either. For the record, yet again: this Chancellor has missed every economic target he ever proclaimed.

Strangely, the markets have not turned on Mr Osborne, despite the UK’s supposedly intolerable debt and deficits. The cost of borrowing still counts as an opportunity missed by the minister. Today he will, they say, try to lock up the votes of pensioners while taking cover in the fog of war. The Chancellor intends to reduce spending to a degree never before seen in modern times. Then he will say, yet again, that “it” is working.

There is no shred of evidence for the claim. If it is true that a sound UK defence depends on sound economic management, Mr Osborne is not even slightly reassuring. Besides: what kind of shrunken country is it, vicious and impoverished, that he would have us defend? Not mine.