THE most discombobulating figure in all Scottish politics is £28,354 – and as a result, it just might be the most interesting.

£28,354 seems to unite every wing of our politics in unease. The figure seems to baffle both the left and the right. The rich miscall it, and the poor don’t recognise it. Socialist supporters of Scottish independence struggle to accept it, and objectively wealthy Unionists teeter into outright denial when faced with it. So what does £28,354 buy you? The answer, perhaps surprisingly, is the median income of a full-time Scottish worker last year.

This number disturbs our politics so comprehensively, I think, because it doesn’t fit neatly into any of the cultural clichés Scottish politics still thinks with. Mention “the wealthy” to the mid-career doctor, the senior teacher and the crumbly lecturer, and they will probably think of the Duke of Buccleuch or Tom Hunter – of a Gloag or a Souter. I’m a douce professional they’d say, comfortable perhaps, but not rich. Even faced with the social data, most will seriously struggle to see themselves in the social mirror as top ten-percenters.

READ MORE: More than half of Scots back SNP’s income tax plans

At the other end of the spectrum, ordinary workers and gig economy toilers often find the £28,354 figure equally disturbing. “But I don’t earn that,” they say, followed by a series of defensive arguments about why the data must be bogus based on their friends’ P60s. And who can blame them? When you think of yourself as ordinary – as an average Scottish worker – it is unsettling to discover your modest pay packet makes you comparatively less well off than the majority of your fellow citizens.

It isn’t the pay gap which nips, exactly. It isn’t the “politics of envy” at work. But richer or poorer, the £28k wage data manages to undermine almost everyone’s social perceptions. The better-off underestimate their affluence, and the less well-off underestimate their poverty. Both groups are deprived of the illusion that their incomes are ordinary. And depriving people of their illusions is almost always a painful thing.

This resistance has made for an increasingly absurd Scottish debate on income taxation – as the political spokesmen of organised privilege see themselves as victims, and the ranting Trots of redistribution paint gory pictures of Scotland’s poverty society. Both miss their mark.

Against this backdrop, YouGov’s new polling on the SNP’s Budget proposals is informative. This week, the pollster found that 54 per cent of Scots back additional taxes for the wealthiest, with just 27 per cent holding out against any rise. Faced with Derek Mackay’s gently redistributive Budget, the Scottish Conservatives unleashed Murdo Fraser, who proceeded to bang the Lambeg drum for all the old familiar Tory songs of private schooling, and top 10 per cent, and the horrors of life spent paying the upper rate of income tax.

Break heart. Darth Murdo’s media allies have slip-streamed in biddably after this hysterical reaction, spinning horror stories about a series of entirely fictional punters, nudged into penury by this wicked Nationalist regime.

The higher rate of tax currently kicks in at £43,000. The median full time worker earns £14,646 per year short of the threshold to pay forty pence in the pound on their earnings; the average worker falls under £20,000 short. Most full-time workers need a telescope to see the upper rate of income tax.

Scottish Tory strategy relies on persuading a sizeable chunk of Scots that they are considerably richer than their bank accounts suggest they are. They invite the median worker to ignore their payslip, and imagine, furiously, that they pay the upper rate of income tax, and smart against the injustice. YouGov suggest this isn’t working.

But ironically, perhaps, much pro-independence advocacy going into 2014 and beyond has been predicated on the opposite argument – by trying to persuade a majority of Scots that they are considerably worse off materially than the evidence of their senses suggests. The Yes campaign was motivated by a sincere, admirable concern with those in our society with the least stake in the United Kingdom. The arguments were passionate. Entrenched poverty was denounced, austerity condemned.

But if you want to open one important window into why the independence campaign failed in 2014, consider this fact. The Scottish Government regularly surveys the population about its financial wellbeing. “How is your household managing financially?” they ask. So what do you reckon? How many Scots told them they were struggling? How many saw the economic prospects in rosier terms?

Talking to folk who voted Yes in 2014, I’ve been struck – time and again – by their assumption that an overwhelming majority – or at least a very substantial minority of Scots – experience the UK as one of grinding economic penury. But the Scottish Government’s own figures knock this social diagnosis brutally on its head.

In 2014, a clear majority – 52 per cent of households – told Scottish Government researchers that they were “managing very well or quite well” financially. Of the remaining half of households, 37 per cent said they “get by alright”, while just 10 per cent told researchers they “don’t manage very well and have some financial difficulties”. Only 1 per cent said they were in “deep financial trouble”. When the exercise was repeated in 2016, the negative ratings had further contracted, and Scots were accentuating the positive: 56 per cent told the Scottish Government they manage well, compared to 36 per cent getting by alright, and 8 per cent with difficulty.

So what are we to make of this? Are Scots delusional in their perceptions of their economic circumstances? Are they unwilling to admit to difficulties to some faceless investigator with a clipboard, as they bury their domestic difficulties and pretend everything is just dandy?

Those are, perhaps, dynamics in play in interpreting these figures. But a more obvious point suggests itself: Scotland is a wealthy nation, blighted by too much poverty, which Holyrood does not have adequate powers to address. The constitutional settlement ensures we must lump Mrs May’s choices. They ensure that the poorest remain most exposed to her government’s indifference. This is intolerable.

But too often, Scottish discussions of class and politics quickly descend into nostalgia and cliché. Scots have an insatiable appetite for the post-industrial misery memoir which is becoming less and less representative of the experiences of the majority of people in this country. It is premised on a kind of bleak nostalgia. And insofar as Nationalist politics is premised on this nostalgia, it can only fail, and fail, and fail.

Independence cannot be won with the votes only of the men and women of no property. Let the Scottish Tories engage in self-serving self-deception if they fancy. Let them appeal to the pocket books of the consciousless wealthy, determined to protect every clipped penny of their incomes, hysterically denouncing even modest increases in their bills with threats and menaces about fleeing the jurisdiction.

Most of us are better than that. But for Nationalists, there remains a more fundamental challenge we did not answer in 2014: without illusions, without nostalgia, how do you persuade a wealthy nation to embrace radical change?