AS an economist I was once told to avoid short-term forecasts at all costs.

By all means project the world economic outlook over the long run or the impact of technology on employment by 2030 but under no circumstances forecast next week’s inflation rate!

The point is obvious.

As Keynes memorably reminded us, “in the long run we are all dead” and even if alive certainly unable to remember a single economic forecast made years before, but by next week short-term forecasts are still uppermost in everyone’s short-term memory. They can come back to bite you very hard indeed in very sensitive spots.

No doubt a few Fraser of Allander economists are pondering that very subject this very morning as the full extent of their misreading of Scottish economic statistics has been laid bare. It may be time once again to bring out the the legendary “Fraser eraser”.

The first-quarter surge in Scottish GDP caught the Fraser economists by surprise. Point eight of one per cent doesn’t sound all that much but, in fact, it is FOUR times the comparable UK figure.

It is the equivalent of more than four per cent annual growth and puts Scotland into the international fast lane of current growth prospects for 2017, just as the UK has entered the slow lane.

However, whatever the embarrassment for the Fraser Institute, it is as of nothing compared to the abject humiliation of Unionist politicians, the mainstream media and the BBC. They have all been holed amidships.

The Fraser forecast was hedged with sensible caveats and equivocations, even if their central thesis looks badly flawed. However, none of this stopped the bandwagon jumpers who wished to turn the drama of a single forecast into a full-scale economic crisis.

In one fell swoop they have all been laid low and if the SNP Government is sensible they will endeavour to remind these merchants of doom of that on a daily basis for many months to come. It is the economy stupid and there is nothing more stupid than a politician who misreads the economy.

For the best part of a week these incompetent seers have been salivating on the looming Scottish recession. Let us examine why.

Firstly the mainstream media. The prospect of a Scottish recession would have been dreadful news for the country. However our friends in the deadwood press wallow in bad news – especially if they can lay the blame at the door of the Scottish Government.

“Scotland 48 hours from recession” was one of the milder headlines and such was the excitement that even the doom-mongers of the past like Alf Young were disinterred to accompany the funeral march.

In all of this misreporting the BBC was greatly to blame with the Sunday Politics Scotland taking top billing.

I rather like Gordon Brewer and his interview style but if he is honest with himself he might like to look back very carefully at last week’s programme.

Firstly, it is unwise to base a programme on treating a forecast as fact and secondly if you are going to do that then it is as well to get the facts right. One of the most memorable moments was allowing Jackie Baillie to spout uncorrected complete and utter guff about GDP comparisons between Scotland and England. She was clearly, at best, unfamiliar with the subject, but there was not even the semblance of the mildest of corrections from the interviewer.

This was backed up by allowing some Tory, claiming to be an MSP, to have no idea what to do about this imagined recession save signing up the whisky industry for the UK Government’s widely ridiculed industrial strategy. He too was given the easiest of rides from the normally formidable Gordon. Rather like as Vince Cable once observed about another Gordon, the Rambo interviewing Scottish minister Jamie Hepburn became Mr Bean when tackling the Unionist duo.

Of course Mr Brewer was not responsible for the greatest indictment of the BBC. After days of talking up the “crisis”, its ending was reported only as the SECOND item on their flagship show Reporting Scotland. If you foolishly talk something up for days then you have to put your hands up when your story goes down in flames. Or at least you would realise your duty to do so if you abided by the normal standards of a public broadcaster.

The Unionist parties, of course, are not worried about a recession. They were seized of the opportunity to blame the prospect of an independence referendum for Scotland’s sluggish performance.

The fact that this involves talking down the country is the mildest of inconveniences for the Labour and Tory parties. They keep their eyes focused on their principal political objective of dissing the Nats.

All of that has come to nought. Just as Nicola Sturgeon was placing the country on referendum alert so was the economy enjoying its best quarter for some years. If there is any direct relationship between talking up independence and talking up the Scottish economy the evidence suggests it is a positive one.

However, the real grounding for this proposition does not lie in short-term forecasts. It lies in the last 10 years. You don’t need a crystal ball, or even a Fraser eraser, when you can read the book.

The SNP took power in Scotland in 2007. Since then relative to the rest of the UK, Scotland has enjoyed its best economic decade for a century. That is correct. At least relative to the UK, Scotland has never had it so good. Of course still far too few Scots have felt the real benefit in terms of living standards and freedom from poverty.

But the truth is out there in the GDP figures and even more so in the much better-founded employment and unemployment data.

Firstly on the broad GDP figures, Scotland kept pace with the UK from 2007 to 2014 and then has fallen two per cent behind over the last two years. The explanation for the setback the last two years is not “two-thirds” oil and gas, as the Fraser postulate, but all oil and gas.

That is because it is Scotland’s biggest industrial sector and, in contrast to the UK figures, only include the onshore impact which has been falling. The UK figures also include offshore production, which has been rising. In other words, oil has not only depressed the Scottish figure but simultaneously inflated the UK one.

Of course there are other short-term factors. On the negative side the closure of Longannet. On the positive the revival of the steel industry, thanks to the intervention of the Scottish Government. However, these and other factors are dwarfed by the industrial impact of oil.

However, the key point on economic output lies in the per capita figures which exclude the beneficial impact of immigration. In GDP per head terms over the last 10 years Scotland has OUTGROWN the UK average by just under one per cent. Thus, even with the impact of oil and gas over the last two years, GDP per person in Scotland has been rising faster than the rest of the UK.

Even more dramatic is the evidence from the labour market and this despite the fact that Scottish productivity has been outperforming that of the UK since the recession.

Despite the loss of 100,000 energy jobs Scottish unemployment is at a 40-year low, and below that of the UK, while Scottish employment is near its all-time high. Over the 10 years both measurements have outperformed the UK average. The importance of this is clear from the graphs comparing Scotland and UK unemployment and employment rates since 1992. They show beyond argument the dramatically improved Scottish position of the last 10 years.

Now consider what the relatives would have been if the UK had lost one million jobs in its greatest industry, the equivalent of the Scottish oil and gas loss.

This demonstrates the strength and resilience which has developed in the Scottish economy over these last 10 years rather than the fragility pointed to by some commentators.

Or to put it another way. As the constitutional issue in Scotland has bubbled away Scotland had enjoyed its best economic period since the Great War.

Now all of this should be placed into some context. In international terms Scotland’s first-quarter figures look good but don’t match turbocharged Ireland. Put oil production into Scottish GDP and Scotland is comfortably in the top 20 countries in the world in terms of wealth per head but still lags each of the four small European Free Trade Association countries. We lag even more in terms of standards of equality and what turns a wealthy country into a prosperous society.

HOW much credit or responsibility should the Scottish Government be accorded for all of this? In terms of the international comparisons and in the near term not too much.

Aggregate demand and the choice between austerity and growth still lies by huge measure in the hands of the UK Government. In the short term we are all in the hands of Philip Hammond whose smile, like Strafford Cripps, is “like moonlight on a graveyard”.

The National:

The National:

HOWEVER the encouraging relatives with the rest of the UK and the medium-term improvements are subjects for which the Scottish Government should rightly claim much of the credit.

The fact that Scotland now has one of the most employable female workforces in Europe has more than a little to do with Nicola Sturgeon’s determined pursuit of expanded nursery provision.

The fact than Scotland has one of the lowest rates of youth unemployment in Europe is substantially down to the doubling of modern apprenticeships and Michael Russell’s brave decision to turn college courses into full-time passports to employment rather than part-time respites from unemployment.

The fact that Scotland now uses public capital more efficiently than just about anywhere else is down to John Swinney’s formation of the Scottish Futures Trust and the clear departure from the PFI disasters of the Labour years.

These and other micro-economic initiatives from the past 10 years are now paying full dividend. And furthermore I think in Keith Brown we have a cabinet secretary well capable of using that platform to build.

The Scottish Government must be confident and assertive not just in countering the Unionists but in the positive vision of what is now possible for our country.

Now that the Unionist hoodies croaks for doom have been confounded let us see Keith Brown and his colleagues confidently explain not just the facts of the past but the hopes of the future.