How does the SNP get away with it? Last week’s spending review was an exercise in what can only be described as fiscal austerity. Yet the media and political response has been strangely muted. The nationalist commentariat politely looked the other way. BBC Scotland scarcely gave it a second glance.

Obsessed with parties in Number Ten, the Scottish political classes failed to notice that the SNP had just unveiled what was effectively a Tory deficit reduction plan similar to George Osborne’s in 2010.

You think I exaggerate? An 8% real terms cut - not a freeze - over four years for non ring-fenced service services like education, police, the justice system. 30,000 public sector job losses as spending is frozen at pre-pandemic levels. Local government cut again, after nearly a decade of contraction.

COSLA told in effect, that it will have to privatise many services. All this to close a £3.5 billion hole in the accounts.

The deficit is largely because the tax increases intended to deliver revenues of £500m a year have actually delivered a shortfall of £200m. Not so much the Laffer Curve as Sturgeon Flat Line. There just aren’t enough people in decent jobs to pay the higher tax rates - except the train drivers of course.

The SNP used to blame Brexit immigration cuts for Scotland’s dwindling work force, but UK immigration has risen to record numbers recently. Scotland just isn’t creating enough well paid jobs.

In one sense I admire the Finance Secretary Kate Forbes’ honesty. This was telling it like it is. Too many quangos, too many civil servants, too little efficiency in local government. Above all too little growth in the economy and too little thought about how to boost it

Her frankness is another reason why she’ll never become SNP leader, despite being the sharpest tool in the Scottish government box right now. The other reason is that she is a practising Christian - shock horror - and potentially unsound on the women-with-penises issue.

The SNP is well guarded online by hyper-loyal cyber minions who launched a pre-emptive strike on anyone seeing this spending review for what it was. But Yes supporters must be asking themselves some serious questions now about exactly what independence is for.

The argument has always been that Scotland needs independence, not because we are all flag-waving nationalists

who hate the English, but to create a more equal society. It’s not “blood and soil” nationalism, we all cried in 2014, but “progressive nationalism”. Independence was supposed to ensure that Scotland is not ruled forever by Tory governments in Westminster for which Scots have not voted.

It wasn’t part of the plan to have Tory governments manque in Holyrood.

This spending review is a bizarre curtain-raiser to the independence campaign that is supposed to launch in a matter of weeks when the Independence Bill is put before Holyrood. What does it tell us about the economics of independence?

That 8% is telling. It also happens to be the figure given for Scotland’s overall deficit by the 2018 Sustainable Growth Commisson Report (SGC). It said that to balance the books, an independent Scotland would need to keep public spending to 1% less than GDP growth for 10 years. Nicola Sturgeon insisted this was not austerity.

Well the Scottish Government’s own Fiscal Commission last week forecast Growth of little more than 1% by 2023/24. That could mean, on SGC numbers, zero spending increases perhaps for a decade. Not even George Osborne managed that in the decade after 2010. The NHS for one needs nearly 3% growth every year just to stand still. Right now it needs much more than that to clear the longest waiting lists in memory.

The Spending Review is beginning to look disturbingly like an independence review - if you believe there’ll be a vote next year. Kate Forbes does. She’s allocated £20m for it. The opposition parties leapt on this as if it were the killer fact revealing the SNP’s distorted priorities, but £20 is nothing compared to cuts of £3.5 billion.

The failure of Labour and the Scottish Conservatives to provide effective opposition to the Sturgeon machine was never more apparent.

Kate Forbes dutifully tried to blame Westminster for the Scottish spending squeeze. She said the Scottish Government lacks borrowing powers. But it has just borrowed £417 million from the UK government which will have to be paid back. It also has powers to issue bonds, gilt-edged securities, to raise money on the international markets. But these have been largely unused since 2014.

Ms Forbes’ claim of being hard done by Westminster is contradicted anyway by the Barnett Formula. Even with the block grant adjustment, Barnett still provides for spending per head in Scotland of over 20% more than England.

Twenty years ago we all though the Barnett bonus was going to be phased out. It is simply not justified anymore for Scotland to receive so much more than the North of England. But it remains, and was rolled over by the 2016 Fiscal Framework even as part of the block grant was replaced by taxes raised in Scotland.

Only through economic mismanagement of epic proportions could the Scottish Government contrive to waste the Barnett surplus. It will likely have to go cap in hand to Westminster for a bail out even as it blames it for Scotland’s self-inflicted austerity

Not a great advert for independence. And last week’s austerity numbers did not take fully into account two further proximate shocks. The first is double-digit inflation, which means spending frozen at cash limited actually means 10% cuts. Nor does it include the wave of pay increases now being demanded by public sector workers - led by the train drivers.

Kate Forbes wants public spending frozen to pre pandemic levels.

She pointed out that Scottish public sector workers already get 7% more than their counterparts in England. Curiously she regards this as “progressive” as if paying one cosseted group of workers over the odds is socialist. She needs to be reminded that 80% of the Scottish workforce are in the private sector. They’re looking down the barrel of significant pay cuts if they’re lucky enough to hold on to their jobs.

It’s all very well increasing taxes on the (moderately) better off. But it makes no sense when increasing taxes actually brings in less revenue. That is not progressive. Like all spending governments Nicola Sturgeon has neglected the economic reality that wealth has to be created before it can be redistributed, or in her case funnelled to privileged groups of workers.

The Scottish Government is in an echo chamber composed of public sector unions who think it is a soft touch and the constellation of NGOs, quangos and other bodies feeding off the public purse. Kate Forbes said rightly that this gravy train has to stop. Though this is largely how the Sturgeon government has consolidated its power, by funding networks of campaign groups to support her policies.

What a bizarre state of affairs. The Tories in Westminster have adopted the economics of tax and spend while the Scottish Government has turned to fiscal austerity. How did that happen?