SCOTTISH National Party leadership hopeful Kate Forbes’s comments on the economy last week evoked memories of New Labour.

It was as much the general tone as the specifics which conjured up thoughts of New Labour, and crucially a recognition of what could be achieved in terms of a better society by having a strong economy.

Ms Forbes, during a visit to Cairngorm Brewery at Aviemore, declared: “I would certainly take a more pro-business approach because I don’t think we can achieve our aims of reducing poverty or investing in the NHS and public services unless we’ve got a growing, prosperous economy. It’s a starting position.”

Ian McConnell: Rishi Sunak deal will not save UK from Tory self-harm

It is an eminently sensible view, although perhaps one which is not shared by all.

At one end of the political spectrum, we have had the Conservative Government show it is anything but pro-business. Its Brexit has hammered the economy and will continue to do so, limiting growth potential and exacerbating the UK’s skills and labour shortage crisis while also having removed frictionless trade with the country’s largest trading partner and world’s biggest free-trade bloc.

The Tories still like to portray themselves as pro-business but this self-characterisation does not bear up to any kind of scrutiny. And the Conservatives’ economic track record all the way back to 2010 – from which time they choked off growth with savage and ill-judged austerity – is dismal.

Moreover, the behaviour of the Boris Johnson administration in the run-up to the Tory hard Brexit, and some of the comments from the former prime minister and others in the Cabinet, made it crystal clear that the interests of business did not constitute a priority for them. In fact, at times they made it clear in no uncertain terms that they were not at all interested in what business had to say about their ideological folly.

Elsewhere on the political spectrum, the Scottish Greens, with which the SNP has a cooperation agreement at Holyrood, have at times taken what some might view as a curious position on growth.

Lorna Slater, co-leader of the Scottish Greens, said in an interview with The Herald on Sunday last year that economic growth was an area where her party had “a fundamentally different position to the Scottish Government”.

It should go without saying that, if you create wealth and prosperity through economic growth, you have the best chance of maximising living standards across the board.

Of course, there is an important caveat to this: only if the benefits of such wealth and prosperity are distributed in a way that is fair. Such fairness can create a virtuous circle, feeding back into economic growth and wealth creation, and improving living standards further.

New Labour delivered an impressive economic performance over a very long period after coming to power in 1997.

Things came unstuck for the UK and other major economies around the world when the global financial crisis got under way in earnest in autumn 2008. However, it is worth emphasising – given fingers are often still pointed at New Labour for the financial crisis – that the notion the Tories would have regulated the City to a greater degree is fantastical.

The Tony Blair administration seemed to get it just right in terms of its economic policies.

It created an environment in which businesses could prosper.

And the UK was viewed as an attractive place in which to invest by companies, at home and abroad.

Ian McConnell: Bizarre Tory denials on food shortages amid turnip cherishing

Growth was strong, and consistent, and Gordon Brown, as chancellor for most of New Labour’s period in power, deserves great credit along with Tony Blair for a process of fairly quiet but very major redistribution which fuelled further economic prosperity without upsetting the sensibilities of Middle England.

Tax credits for people in work but on lower incomes constituted one of many fine examples of policies which benefited both the economy and society.

Of course, it is also worth recognising that, while Ms Forbes deserves credit for highlighting the importance of being pro-business for a strong economy, the SNP under Nicola Sturgeon has seemed to grasp that very point much more than might be generally recognised amid all the mudslinging.

A narrative that the SNP was anti-business was fuelled particularly during the pandemic not only by people in sectors affected by restrictions, whose frustrations were understandable if not always on the money, but also by more politically motivated actors.

Scotland’s very impressive inward investment record would suggest the nation is not viewed as in any way anti-business by overseas companies.

It was interesting listening to Deputy First Minister John Swinney speak at a reception at the Scottish Parliament in January – held by the University of Glasgow to celebrate Scottish economist Adam Smith.

Mr Swinney talked about the SNP’s focus on “fair work”, and the importance of this to the economy and society.

Fair work is an admirable aim, and crucial from the perspective of a properly functioning society. And it also feeds through into economic prosperity.

If people are paid properly, they will be more productive. They will also have money in their pockets to spend with businesses.

And they will be freed, hopefully, from the dismal situation of in-work poverty, something that was already a growing problem throughout the UK under the Conservatives and has been exacerbated by the cost-of-living crisis.

It is worth noting what the SNP has done to try to ease these difficulties and the blight of poverty more generally, with measures including the Scottish child payment to support families on low incomes.

These measures should also help the economy, given they put money in the pockets of people who have to spend the vast bulk or all of what they have to live.

Returning to Ms Forbes and her comments last week, her decision to highlight the importance of a strong economy was heartening. And she has performed strongly as Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy.

Ian McConnell: Think Nicola Sturgeon has been bad for business? Think again

It was also very encouraging that she highlighted the importance of the economy in the context of reducing poverty, and funding the National Health Service and public services.

This most definitely did bring back memories of the New Labour approach.

Labour in particular, given its criticisms of the SNP in Scotland often seem far more impassioned than any differences of opinion with the Conservatives, and also the SNP, given its intense rivalry with Labour, might not like to hear this.

Labour under Sir Keir Starmer looks far less impressive on the economy than it did under Blair and Brown, notably with its ruling out of a return to the European single market and customs union. However, there have been signs that some senior figures in the UK business community increasingly prefer Labour to the Conservatives on the economy, and that is no surprise given the Tory track record.

Whatever the case on that front, and although the SNP leadership race outcome remains to be seen, it is good that Ms Forbes appears to have a firm handle on the importance of the economy, and even more crucially on what growth can achieve for society.