This toxic SNP leadership campaign is, mercifully, nearing its close. Time for a serious discourse about Scotland’s economic prospects.

The two leading candidates – apologies, Ms Regan – both declared that their principal objective was to eradicate poverty.

However, Kate Forbes and Humza Yousaf differed markedly as to how; Ms Forbes favouring economic stimulus and Mr Yousaf stressing enhanced childcare.

At the very least, they now have updated statistics, measuring poverty in Scotland.

The headline on this official announcement advised us, blandly, that poverty levels remain “broadly stable”.

Which, I am sure, is a great comfort to the hungry, shabbily-dressed children whose troubled lives are measured in that banal drivel.

Enough, Brian, enough. The stats must be disclosed. But, still, it reminded me grimly of an infamous piece of doggerel verse which accompanied the illness of the then Prince of Wales in 1910.

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Remember it? “Across the wires the electric message came. / He is no better, he is much the same.”

Authorship of these lines is, understandably, disputed. But, still, sententious pomposity is unmissable.

Ditto the latest stats on poverty. Amid these “broadly stable” figures, we learn that persistent poverty – as opposed, presumably, to the fly-by-night kind – is on the rise.

Material deprivation – again, just remember what pain lies behind such phrases – is apparently still affected by the pandemic.

I know, I know, one must maintain a calm sough. They are only stats. But is there not also room for anger at the plight of so many of our fellow citizens?

There is indeed. But how are we, collectively, to respond?

Which brings us back to the SNP leadership contest which ends next week, with the party declaration on Monday and the expected installation of the victor as First Minister on Tuesday.

HeraldScotland: Humza Yousaf on campaign trailHumza Yousaf on campaign trail (Image: free)

Firstly, it is entirely right to state that responsibility for poverty does not lie solely or even mostly at the door of the current First Minister or her successor.

Yes, Scottish Labour sought, understandably, to accuse the SNP of being culpable for a “shameful blight” on Scottish society.

In response, the SNP argued that “Tory cuts” were “pushing people into poverty”.

Setting all that aside, one might also reasonably cite the enduring impact of the pandemic, energy prices driven by conflict in Ukraine – and a continuing legacy from the banking crash of 2008. The unwanted gift that keeps on giving.

There was, frankly, too little serious discussion about the economy during the leadership campaign. It seemed dominated by issues of personal morality.

Again, I understand the particular circumstances which drove that narrative. But we also need to contemplate our cash.

Such debate as there was during the campaign mostly – and, again, understandably – centred around how swiftly Scotland might attain independence and, thus, a proclaimed economic transformation.

There was passing excitement when all three candidates voiced an expectation that Scotland would be independent within five years.

What did you expect them to say? “Nah, don’t think so. Cannae see it. I’ll get back to you on that one, eh?”

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Not exactly a vote winner when you consider that the (somewhat reduced) electorate in this contest consists of paid-up SNP members.

Equally, given that, it would scarcely be a smart strategy for the contenders to start questioning the merits or feasibility of independence.

However, there remain key figures in the movement who yearn for a little more frankness about the challenges which confront Scotland right now – and might well continue under independence.

These are the ones who are somewhat loath to say that an independent Scotland would automatically be a land flowing with semi-skimmed milk and low-calorie honey.

To be clear, such strategists are not rejecting independence. Far from it. However, they believe that the unconvinced might welcome a more open discourse.

In essence, the dichotomy which featured in the leadership campaign was whether to prioritise economic growth (Kate Forbes) or to focus upon redistribution (Humza Yousaf.)

Far too simplistic, I know. Ms Forbes also spoke of measures to relieve poverty and Mr Yousaf suggested infrastructure projects to stimulate growth.

It would be useful, I believe, to engender a broader debate which encompasses both aspects. Which recognises that redistribution might eventually be hampered without available resources.

Humza Yousaf spoke of a “well-being economy”. Should he win, he will need to spell out what he means, alleviating fears that it is largely a slogan designed to side-step pressure for growth.

Three further points. Firstly, the business perspective. They feel, frankly, neglected. They feel that wealth creation is over-looked.

In response to which, sundry First Ministers – current and future – might reasonably say that a global pandemic and a cost of living crisis have tended to command attention.

Still, if we are to focus at all on growing the economy, the business perspective will be crucial – alongside that of the caring community.

Secondly, we should not expect stasis. The Scottish Fiscal Commission has warned of “significant challenges” to long-term Scottish funding.

That arises from higher costs – and a question of imbalance. A declining Scottish population, funding greater service demand from an increasing percentage of elderly people.

By contrast, the UK population – and thus tax base – is forecast to rise. However, the Fiscal Commission says that financial tightening south of the Border could work through to additional challenges for Scotland.

In short, greater demand, less money. Frankly, we will require to make Scotland a more attractive place to live and work, if our economy is to remain sustainable.

Thirdly, Scotland’s ethos fosters mutual support. That ethos will continue to demand action on alleviating want – while enabling youngsters from deprived backgrounds to attend university.

Some final thoughts. Will there be losers’ consent to the result? That had seemed in doubt – but all three candidates have now declared support for the electoral process.

Will the pact with the Greens continue? Yes, if Humza Yousaf wins. Less likely if it is Kate Forbes. Either way, it might need refreshed, especially if there is to be a review of strategy, particularly with regard to the economy.

Finally, all the best to Nicola Sturgeon. The “shy, introverted working class girl from Ayrshire” – her words - deserves our respect for her effort and endeavour.