Later this week, we will have updated projections to accompany the Scottish Budget from the Scottish Fiscal Commission. These will extend for five years and give an overview of trends in growth and employment.

It is only natural that so much attention is given to the immediate outlook for the economy. We are all interested in how growth will perform in the near term and the consequences for government revenues. But, in doing so, it often crowds out a wider appreciation of the structural changes that will have a greater impact on our economic future.

A fresh look at Scotland’s past can offer an interesting perspective on today’s controversies and debates. Within the UK, it is difficult to think of another place that has been through such an economic transformation – with highs and lows – over the last century.

Most people have a broad understanding of Scotland’s history of de-industrialisation. But the scale is remarkable. Post-1945, and boosted by post-war rebuilding, industry made up around 40 per cent of the Scottish economy. Coal production remained relatively buoyant too, whilst steel shortages meant that Scotland’s industrial heartlands operated in a seller’s market.

Read more: UK economy: Stagflation warning as CBI seeks action

But the second half of 1950s saw these traditional industries in decline. Slowly at first, but then rapidly from international competition and falling government support. By the 1970s, employment in manufacturing had dropped by more than 150,000 from post-war levels.

Scotland’s economy was in bad shape. Estimates from Gavin McCrone – who became the Scottish Office’s chief economist – were that by the early 1960s, GDP per head in Scotland had fallen to between 85% and 90% of that in the UK.

Unemployment was also persistently much higher than the UK average. It would have been higher still had 300,000 people not left Scotland in the 1960s, many of them seeking economic opportunities elsewhere.

Since then, Scotland has managed to rebuild its economy. Unemployment now broadly aligns with the UK average, as do earnings. Instead of being one of the weakest economic “regions” of the UK, Scotland is – on most indicators – considered one of the strongest outside London and the south-east.

Read more: We need a new economic thinking that works for people and planet

Some of the turnaround in economic prospects was simple good fortune. The discovery of North Sea oil transformed the north-east and helped to build a world class energy sector. Scotland’s centuries old heritage in financial services meant that it was well-placed to take advantage of the growing demand for consumer services that arose during the second half of the century. Food and drink and tourism have benefited from the opening up of new markets and a shift in demand to quality produce.

But it also reflects the ingenuity of individual businesses and the effect of policy. Of course, not all ideas worked. Scotland’s foray into car manufacturing and electronics for example, might have helped provide jobs when there were not many others on the go, but their success was fleeting.

But look around Scotland – whether that be in the infrastructure that we still rely upon such as the Clyde Tunnel, the Erskine, Tay and Forth Road bridges or the electrification of the West Coast mainline; the development of our enterprise agencies; the investment in a highly-educated workforce; or our focus on international investment – and you’ll see legacy effects of decisions taken in the 1960s and 1970s that have had remarkable longevity.

Read more: Hiring activity falls as skills shortages compound economic gloom

Of course, we live with the consequences of this churn too. The scars from de-industrialisation remain visible across many towns and in our inequality and health statistics. Over the last forty years, more than 100,000 people have moved out of localities along the Clyde seeking new opportunities in the east of the country.

Our demographic challenge is more acute than in the UK, in part, due to that sustained outflow of people through the mid-20th century. And we are facing another significant transformation as when oil and gas replaced coal, as renewables will hasten the decline of Scotland’s oil industry.

It can be easy to jump between being complacent or fatalistic about Scotland’s economic prospects. The last century has taught us that we shouldn’t be either.

Significant change, whether that be from the green economy, our ageing population, the rise in automation or some other “unknown”, will happen. Key to navigating through that change will be getting the basics right on our economic fundamentals – skills, productivity and tackling inequalities – as well as a slice of good fortune.

Graeme Roy is professor of economics at the University of Glasgow’s Adam Smith Business School