THESE are troubled, anxious times – and not just because we still wait to learn whether the Prime Minister will be, to borrow a phrase, here today but gone tomorrow.

Certainly, the grotesque, surreal melodrama surrounding Boris Johnson appears on occasion to have been scripted by Gogol.

But, were we not engrossed in that, we would be following a more familiar plot line; a Downing Street duel between Rishi Sunak, with his tax-cutting instinct, and Boris Johnson who pursues a more centrist path in practice, despite his protestations.

The number of employees on the payroll in Scotland is back above pre-pandemic levels. Does that leave you feeling confident about the economy?

Yes, thought you might say that. Scotland’s onshore GDP grew by 0.8 per cent in November, with output now also above the pre-pandemic performance. Feel confident? Same answer?

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The truth is we look upon these works and despair. Our collective tone is a fretful one. The tenour remains apprehension and fear.

With good reason. Our sluggish economy has still not recovered from the banking crash of 2008. On top of that, we have the economic impact of this hideous plague.

Then there is Brexit. We hear of benefits to come. We hear. But we do not see any real economic uplift in our economic circumstances, while we learn daily of difficulties for exporters.

More, we observe a rising cost of living. We grimace at sharply increased energy bills as new tariff contracts kick in.

All of which adds up to pressing questions for the UK Government. For the Chancellor, for the Prime Minister – or their replacements, should it come to that.

Not least because they are about to add 1.25 per cent to National Insurance from April.

That increase has provoked an outburst of angst, reflected in the Tory press. However, its impact will be more than political. It will affect employees, employers and the self-employed. It is, say Ministers, justified, as it will be dedicated to health and social care.

Even as we apply close scrutiny to the economic actions of Boris Johnson and his UK Ministers, it is entirely right to direct more than a passing glance at the Scottish Government as well.

The Scottish Budget passed Stage One consideration at Holyrood this week and the Finance Secretary Kate Forbes took the opportunity to devote an extra £120 million to local authorities, encouraging them to skip “inflation-busting increases” in council tax.

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Plainly, she is concerned at the wider economic damage which might result if local bills were to rise sharply. Historically, that concern was reflected in the SNP’s previous, prolonged freeze on council tax, together with continuing and substantial support to hold down business rates.

All of which is eminently understandable, particularly with council elections due in May. Plus, of course, there remains the over-arching objective of independence.

But that still leaves another question. Just what is the broad economic and tax strategy followed right now by this Scottish Government? That remains somewhat opaque.

We may presume that they are in favour, broadly, of growing the Scottish economy, as measured by GDP. Or rather we may presume that for the SNP.

The Greens, as the SNP’s partners in government, question the validity of such a measurement in producing a true picture of societal content.

Which leads to consensual talk of a “well-being economy” – without anyone attempting, seriously, to define such an economy: to specify how it is to be calculated statistically and the fiscal policies to be applied in its pursuit.

Scottish Government documents say the aim is a “greener, fairer and more inclusive society”.

Which, if you think about it, means everything and nothing. If you doubt me, try positing the converse. “We want a fiscal system which damages the environment, is intrinsically unfair and shuts people out of society. Vote for us.”

In practice, all that such generic statements do is present comforting platitudes to the population, in the hope that relatively few will notice the absence of detail.

To be entirely fair, these are exceptionally difficult times. All governments, including the UK and Scottish versions, are wrestling with their continuing response to the pandemic and other shocks.

Perhaps, then, we can expect more when Kate Forbes publishes the Scottish Government’s ten-year economic strategy, due in the next few weeks.

Publication has been delayed. I believe that is partly due to a dispute within government as to tactics and wording.

Eager officials apparently suggested in a draft version that the updated strategy might be “transformational” for the Scottish economy.

They could be forgiven for such a choice of words. It is precisely the language used in the recent past by the First Minister to describe her planned improvements to Scottish childcare.

However, the broad economy is rather different. Astute political advisers raised doubts. They said such wording risked cutting across the SNP’s entire constitutional narrative.

If, they said, we promise to transform the economy under existing devolved powers, won’t people ask why we need independence? Might they also ask why we need to reverse Brexit?

They might indeed. And so I expect more nuanced language to be deployed.

But, still, what is the fiscal policy? The SNP previously favoured cutting corporation tax, once that power was gained, and scrapping air passenger duty.

Both policies were designed to improve economic competitiveness. Both policies have been dropped.

What survives now? Are Scottish Ministers in favour of cutting tax to incentivise enterprise? Or raising tax to redistribute wealth?

In practice, they appear to be in favour of fiscal caution, annoying as few people as feasible. It is the reverse of John Stuart Mill: instead of the greatest happiness, the least exasperation.

To be fair again, I expect the economic strategy to be significant. I anticipate five key aims: enhanced productivity, new markets, energy transition, improved skills, and measures to address structural inequalities.

Above all, I expect a predominant focus upon renewable energy, for Scottish markets and profitable export. Perhaps the new slogan should be “it’s Scotland’s wind”.

In addition, while I would welcome clarity and precision, it might be argued that fiscal caution is justified right now. After all, these are troubled, anxious times.