I WRITE from foreign climes and woke to urgent “Breaking News” from The Herald online. What dramatic development had occurred in the land I briefly left behind? Good breaking news? Bad breaking news?

Or, as it soon transpired, underwhelming breaking news: “Nicola Sturgeon has said she intended ‘to do everything that’s within my power’ to hold a second vote on the future of Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom before the end of next year”.

Not so much breaking news as a broken gramophone record. We are in a public health “tsunami” (copyright N Sturgeon). Large sectors of the economy are in dire straits, due not least to Ms Sturgeon’s inclination to close things down. Scotland’s deficit rose last year to £32 billion.

Might it be more appropriate to seek useful outcomes with the enormous “power” actually at her disposal rather than muse about something that patently is not? Or is it the truth that beneath the glib exterior, there really is not a lot going on, other than banging the same old drum?

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Take, for example, town centres – a subject Ms Sturgeon would regard as far below her pay-grade but actually the kind of thing that affects people’s lives. I have a longstanding interest, having witnessed the debilitating effect this form of decline has on the psyche of communities.

Three experiences over the past week combined to make me think about it afresh. First, I walked along a particularly depressing high street of a once prosperous Scottish town. It would be generous to say ‘nothing has changed’. In fact, it has got worse – much worse.

Second, I heard a radio programme about regeneration of Margate, which a decade ago was synonymous with similar decline in English coastal communities. One of the towns chosen for a pilot put forward by Mary Portas, its fortunes have been transformed through myriad small businesses.

And then third, I am in Italy and it has long intrigued me how the problem is so much less in other European countries than in the UK. I’m sure there are grim places here too but overwhelmingly, the small business culture creates far healthier towns and cities which seem better equipped to withstand economic, or even pandemic, misfortune.

I do not fully understand why but if I had the “power” within Scotland, I would make it my business to find out. This is a devolved policy area. Scotland could do what it likes. It could learn from any country which demonstrates different outcomes. It could become a leader within the UK. Instead, things just get more depressing.

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The challenge is complex but that is what should make it exciting for a politician motivated by outcomes rather than idle rhetoric. It involves legislating to break the obstructive rights of property ownership. It involves reform of business rating which cripples the potential for a far more widespread entrepreneurial culture.

A starting point could be to twin, for research, a few Scottish communities with close continental counterparts, let’s say in post-industrial areas hit by rapid decline. Yet somehow they keep their cafes, bars and independent shops. Find out what the conditions are that make this possible and then run a few pilots to replicate them.

There has been no shortage of lip-service paid to the subject but the evidence tells us how little difference has been made because it has not been followed through. We had a National Review of Town Centres (2013) followed by a Town Centre Action Plan. There was a fund to sprinkle some cash around but with no underpinning strategy.

Last year we had a Review Group to discuss what has happened since 2013 and make more recommendations, all perfectly sensible. It is government by procrastination, without sufficient interest to deliver actual change.

There are loads of admirable local initiatives around Scotland which could readily identify both the obstacles and the potential that exist. But unless this becomes a front-line political subject, backed up by necessary legislation, they will always be working with at least one hand tied behind their backs.

In any sensible world, local authorities would be in the forefront of this policy but they have just suffered another huge cut to their budgets, sufficient to make the leaders of all 32 councils, including SNP ones, sign a letter of protest to Ms Sturgeon.

So on we trudge. The day “breaking news” signifies some radical, meaningful commitment to tackling this or any other among Scotland’s myriad social ills, Ms Sturgeon will be worthy of some respect. Until then, she displays the politics of a one-dimensional bore.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.