WHEN the 354 pale, white pages of the Growth Commission’s report were finally exposed to the sun over the weekend, a consensus of sorts emerged: “Scotland – The New Case for Optimism” was, whatever else you might say about it, a serious report by a serious economist. Other words beginning with S were also used: solid, strong, sound. A few commentators went even further, saying that, had it been the Growth Commission’s report on offer in 2014 rather than the White Paper, the Yes side might have won.

The chair of the commission himself, Andrew Wilson, underlined how serious and realistic he was trying to be in his introduction to the report – there’s no magic wand, he said, or pot of gold (even of the black variety). He also said he had revisited every one of his own assumptions and opinions in preparing the report, although his talk of “this journey” did rather give the game away early on. Whatever Mr Wilson’s stated intentions, there was only ever one destination programmed into the sat-nav for this trip: independence.

This pre-programmed tendency towards independence was obviously going to be a problem for unionists, but the report also has two inherent problems running right through it, quite apart from the issues on currency and deficit. Here is a report that’s trying to build a bridge to independence using cool, provable facts. But it has serious issues, first, with some of its Brexit-style language, and, second, with its grim, grey realism on the economy. If this is a bridge to Scottish independence, two of the planks are seriously wobbly.

The first issue is with the commission’s Brexit-style language, which in some ways is the most disturbing part of the report – after all, aren’t we learning the lessons of Brexit right now? Apparently not, because, one by one, the commission makes the same assertions about Scottish independence and the UK that the Brexiteers have been making about Brexit and the EU.

First up, we have the commission saying the Scottish economy will build stronger trade links with other European countries and the rest of the world. In particular, it bigs up China and India rather than our direct neighbours in the UK. However, imagining China or India as great trading partners as a way of convincing us we should break away from the economic union of the UK is exactly what Liam Fox, Jacob Rees-Mogg et al have been doing with Brexit. It’s insulting and very far from solid, strong, or sound.

The report also takes the Brexiteers’ cavalier attitude to some of the structural problems of leaving the UK. On Scotland’s future relationship with the UK after independence, the commission says “our goal … should be to maintain a relationship that is ... as close and positive as between any countries anywhere.” But isn’t that the kind of doublethink Theresa May has been spouting about Brexit – that we can have a “deep and special relationship” with an economic union we are leaving?

The same Brexit-style complacency is on show in the commission’s attitude to negotiating an exit from the UK. For months, the Brexiteers have been saying the UK will get a great Brexit deal because it’s in the EU’s best interests, and in the commission’s report we have the same naivety, or denial, about independence – there would be mutual interest between Scotland and the rest of the UK in securing a smooth transition, says the report. It also says securing frictionless borders with the rest of the UK would be a top priority, but apparently it’s a “top priority” for Brexiteers in Northern Ireland too.

For anyone worried about Brexit – which is most of us obviously – the fact the commission mirrors Brexit language in this way is troubling, but it will also have a negative impact on the chances of building a yes vote for independence. Four years ago, we had no direct experience of the consequences of leaving an economic union. Now, with Brexit, we do. And yet the commission employs Brexit language in making its case. In so doing, it has undermined its chances of achieving its aims.

The same applies to the second wobbly plank of the commission’s case, which in some ways is the opposite of the Brexit problem. The pro-Brexit propaganda is all about sunny optimism, but we saw in 2014 where sunny optimism got the SNP: they lost. And so we have a recalibration. Reliance on oil: ditched. Currency union: ditched. Instead, we have talk of getting “debt down to manageable levels” (i.e. cuts) and making Scotland a “competitive location for international investment” (i.e. low tax and possibly low wages too).

Of course, you can see what the commission is trying to do here: four years ago, millions voted no because they were worried the SNP’s economic promises were unrealistic, and so the commission wants to convince those voters that the party has changed and is finally being more realistic. But is talking like George Osborne going to win anyone over, particularly on the left – in fact, isn’t it likely to lose them? It certainly opens a strategic possibility for Scottish Labour, which their leader Richard Leonard wasn’t slow to seize at the weekend.

This new austere version of independence will also fail to convince no voters. In the final days before the 2014 referendum, I spent an afternoon with the yes campaign in Kilmarnock; I also watched Gordon Brown do one of his 11th hour, save-the-union speeches and talked to voters on both sides. One man sticks in my mind. He was in his 70s and had been made redundant with the closure of BMK carpets, but, instead of buying into the “hope” of yes, he was worried that independence would makes things even worse, particularly for the poorest.

Is there anything in the Growth Commission’s report to convince that man he was wrong and make him vote yes? I don’t think so, and that’s the problem. In trying to build the bridge to independence, the SNP is trying out a new form of realism. But if it loses votes on the left and convinces worried no voters that they were right all along, isn’t it likely to backfire and ensure that independence is further away than ever?