THE Roman poet Virgil told us to beware of Greeks bearing gifts, and I give the same warning about Boris Johnson – the cocksure classicist will know the line by heart. The figure who utters it in the original epic, the pagan priest Laocoon, is promptly attacked by writhing serpents, and a dramatic sculpture of the scene can be viewed in the Vatican. The memory of it makes me fear Scotland may face the same crushed plight. That, at least, will be Boris’s intention.

He himself came bearing gifts for Scots yesterday, if only second-hand ones. The £300 million he announced to be shared out among the UK’s devolved administrations was in fact already on the table, waiting only for the i's to be dotted and the t’s to be crossed.  In normal times the government in London would have been happy to let the respective Secretaries of State occupy the limelight and take the credit. I hardly need add the times are not normal so, in favour of himself, the Prime Minister shoved his newly appointed nonentities aside.  They had better get used to this type of treatment.

All the same, the Scots Tories are not, or not yet, quite such pushovers as the hapless members of the Cabinet in London. Each of these has been forced to give a promise of supporting a no-deal Brexit if it should come to that, as is now the most likely scenario in the calculations of Downing Street.

No such undertaking can be extracted from the leader of the Scottish party, Ruth Davidson, who does not owe her position to prime ministerial patronage. And she would be unlikely to give her consent anyway, bruised as she is by Boris’s rebuffs in swapping Scottish Secretaries and ignoring her advice on how to stage an encounter with Nicola Sturgeon. A year ago Davidson was being talked of as a plausible UK prime minister herself. Now she can only rue the memory as the political wheel of fortune spins faster and faster against her.

Not that the Scottish Government should rest on its laurels in the three months to a Halloween Brexit, watching the English parties tear themselves apart and enjoying the spectacle. To my mind, this interval should be just as demanding on the SNP, because there has been a shift in a different dimension which will require of them more creative thinking than they usually show.

For the last decade or so, the SNP have condemned London’s policies for their enforcement of austerity. In practical terms this means that, ever since the financial crisis of 2008, the overall purpose has been to cut the fiscal deficit to proportions more like we had in a distant past. Progress has often been slow, but the UK Government has got there in the end. From a peak of more than £100 billion in 2010, the deficit has sunk to £18bn today. Other things being equal, it probably would have vanished by next year.

But other things are not equal.

I don’t suppose Johnson either knows or cares what his deficit is. So much can be gathered from the helter-skelter announcements in his first week. He promised another 20,000 police on the streets and 20 new hospital upgrades, with an extension of HS2 for good measure.

He added: “We will fix the crisis in social care once and for all with a clear plan we have prepared” and “we are going to level up per pupil funding in primary and secondary schools”. With “safer streets and better education and fantastic new road and rail infrastructure and full fibre broadband, we level up across Britain with higher wages, and a higher living wage”. This is above all for England, of course, but Scotland should get proportional extra funding through the so-called Barnett consequentials that we can spend as we like without being bound by English priorities.

It is obviously convenient for the Prime Minister to keep himself and us in the dark, but he has said nothing about financing the higher prospective deficit that emerges. Clearly, he will add many billions to it. If he is lucky, the international financial markets may judge that a UK which has been capable of managing £100bn of borrowings once can probably do it again. The best estimate I was able to make from the scanty information available was an extra £60bn this time round.

Still, since even the new Chancellor, Sajid Javid, says he doesn’t know how much it will be, I’ll leave it at that. In essence, all depends on the actual course of Brexit, which remains opaque only three months out.

Boldly leaving Brexit aside, then, what I can say is that the basis of the Scottish Government’s entire critique of Tory economic policy over the last 10 years is now being dismantled. Austerity will just cease to exist, and I will be surprised if there is not soon a string of major infrastructure projects north of the Border to match those south of it – on condition we festoon them with Union Jacks, of course.

The National:

From my previous life as a Tory, I know the new Secretary of State, Alister Jack, above. He is (how can I put this?) not an intellectual, and he has no opinions apart from those of the government he serves in. But at the drop of a hat his officials will be able to pull out from their files endless plans for unprofitable projects like those of his boss. There was a time when the Scottish Office worked on little else.

In other words, the SNP in general and the Scottish Government in particular need a new narrative. Every time we argue Scotland is hard done by, Johnson and Jack will point out how projects once paid for by Brussels, in whole or in part, will in future be paid for by them: the biggest are wind farms, submarine power transmission and energy-efficient housing.

No doubt they will also carry out their threat of transferring control of Scottish agriculture, when it comes back from the EU, not to Holyrood but to Westminster, to make sure they are the ones seen to splash out the subsidies to farmers.

Otherwise, the Prime Minister tells us, we need to use our imaginations. Think Secretary of State’s constituency, think Democratic Unionist Party – the bridge between Galloway and Antrim, maybe? If we have so far viewed it as a pipe dream, Boris says only doomsters and gloomsters can be so blinkered.

So Scotland should forget the argument that we are owed a lot of money, on grounds either of present need or of historical injustice, such as the squandering of North Sea oil revenue. The answer from the new UK Government will be to the effect that – yes, Scotland, you are owed a lot of money, and here it is, only in return you must surrender chunks of your devolved powers to us.

The answer to such an outrageous claim is to move forward as fast as possible to effective fiscal autonomy, as defined by Andrew Wilson’s Sustainable Growth Commission.

Scotland’s economic policy can no longer be just a wishlist out of the pork-barrel. It must be honest on what we can afford from our own resources. It must say that, if we want more, we will need to grow our economy faster.

As to how we do so, I refer Nicola and her Cabinet colleagues to all my previous columns about Scotland’s future as a normal capitalist nation.