THE most powerful public policy determinant in this country is yesterday. What we did then we tend to do today and will probably repeat tomorrow. Changing that can be difficult. People worry about change, especially when allocating scares resources. The people or projects who see their resource challenged make a great deal of understandable noise. Those who may receive it don’t yet depend on it, so their voice is quiet.

In general, in politics, the future doesn’t shout and can barely raise a whisper in the wind. The holler of the present and the past drowns the future out.

Over the past three decades the world has enjoyed an unparalleled period of relative peace, growth and prosperity. Whole swathes of the emerging market countries have seen millions lifted out of poverty and no two democracies have been at war. But this growth is not sustainable; indeed, it is not being sustained. Despite the positive of poverty eradication, we have also witnessed remarkable levels of income and wealth inequality within and between countries. The economy as measured by GDP can be most easily thought of as the sum of all of the wages and salaries plus all of the company profits.

In the 10 years to the middle of this decade, 75% of people in the most developed 25 countries saw stagnant or falling real incomes. Meanwhile corporate profits boomed.

The dissent across countries about how the world is governed and working is both understandable and reasonable.

Moreover, since the financial crisis the growth shown has only been kept on the road by the mass injection of economic steroids into the system in the form of debt and central bank asset purchases.

None of this is sustainable economically or politically. And this is before we consider the colossal truth that the world has been fuelled in the past 50 years largely by the rapid depletion of natural resources. Two generations have lived high on the hog without the true cost in any sense being borne, rather passing it on to generations to come.

So, we can add intergenerational inequity to the growing inequalities everywhere. None of this will stand the test of time. The looming risk is that the response is one of low politics, a retreat behind national barriers, the scapegoating of others and a further downward spiral that does not learn the lessons of history.

It is a gloomy prospectus that has been lightened for me by three things. The first was reading the new book by Irish investment analyst Michael O’Sullivan called The Levelling: What’s Next After Globalisation. The second was listening to the excellent Ted Talk given by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on the need for governments to focus on the wellbeing and happiness of the people in the broadest sense. The third was watching John F Kennedy’s famous speech that this column quoted last week: “We choose to go to the moon.”

READ MORE: Here's how you can watch the First Minister's TED talk

All three underscored the need to transform both how we think about the future and our actions today and tomorrow as we steward our countries through all that lies ahead.

Kennedy again: “So it is not surprising that some would have us stay where we are a little longer to rest, to wait. But this country was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward.”

Given all that lies ahead of us we cannot afford to wait and rest or look behind. Globalisation is retreating and with it the trend rate of growth in most developed countries. The risks to stability and peace are real. At the same time the steroids that have fuelled growth to date must retreat.

O’Sullivan argues that as the tide on all that has sustained the world’s development in the past 50 years goes out, it will reveal who has been swimming with no clothes on. It will also challenge all policymakers to secure sustainable growth in living standards and wellbeing which is where Sturgeon’s intervention leads us next.

She argued for a far more nuanced, long-term and considered approach to the trade-offs all countries must determine on and where the focus should lie. It was a strategic intervention that all policymakers and politicians would do well to build upon now with practical and meaningful ideas and choices.

Growth in wages and profits is a necessary but not sufficient determinant of future prosperity, wellbeing and happiness. A broader and more meaningful assessment of our performance is surely long overdue.

Sturgeon rightly pointed out the huge contribution of unpaid carers goes unvalued in current assessments if GDP, for example.

I listen very carefully to those that argue that we should dismiss growth itself as a concept. I confess that I am still thinking that thought through. But I must say my initial reaction is that I think there are too many people living in poverty for us to disregard growth. I think our ageing population will need resourced better and investments will need funded in all that will drive our economy and society forward. There is still so much work to be done.

But how we grow, how the benefits are enjoyed and how inequalities are reduced must be at the front of all minds. So much of how the UK is run is out of time. State pensions are unfunded, public sector pensions underfunded, indeed most pensions are. Natural resources have been depleted and spent and it has been pretended that this was real prosperity. Others like Norway saved when Britain squandered.

Inequalities are out of control and Britain’s political direction of travel is to march behind the zealots who cheered the Prime Minister’s election, retreating behind barriers and waging wars of words and actions on “others”.

Kennedy implores us to look forwards. O’Sullivan and Sturgeon take up the baton and urge us to think differently.

Change is coming. Indeed, change is already here. It is time to give the future its voice. Two roads are possible, and I know which one

I wish to take my children along.


The National: Ruth Davidson

Ruth Davidson’s real problem lies within the Scottish Tory party

THE tensions inside the Scottish Conservative party are now existential. Many are contrasting their position with that of the UK party and identifying a real philosophical divide that could see the party split as this column reflected upon last week.

What strikes me, however, is that the Scottish party itself looks to have the potential to fissure just as their vote has in the most recent European election. There are many politicians across all parties (except the Brexit Party) that I variously know, like, love and respect. Scotland needs a centre-right political voice. Politics needs difference and argument, now more than ever.

READ MORE: Has Scotland’s media fallen out of love with Ruth Davidson?

It is to Scotland’s advantage in many senses that the leaders of all the main parties are pro-EU, pro-migration, outward looking and liberal in their instincts. Many in Ruth Davidson’s party are as appalled as the rest of us with the realities of Boris Johnson’s premiership and the prospects to come.

I struggle to see how many consciences remain inside the party just as Corbyn has driven many out of Labour.

But I know that she will recognise an even greater problem; that is many of her members are rather enjoying both Boris and Brexit. They are the hardcore who really would rather devolution had never happened. Ruth and colleagues had done so well to keep them onside while beaming out an altogether friendlier face. But now they have their voice. What will happen with the votes of Scottish conservative MPs come a potential No-Deal Brexit? At least one, the Secretary of State for Scotland no less, has clearly pledged to the Prime Minister that he will back him over his Scottish leader’s position.

And if there is a snap election, just what will Ruth Davidson be arguing? How should people vote in Alister Jack’s constituency. Brexit has forced Ms Davidson into myriad political contortions of Yogic proportion.

This next one could prove a twist too far.