ALBERT Einstein said this: “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world”.

So, what do we do with that thought? Feels counter-cultural in the country of reformation and parish schools and working so very hard doesn’t it?

But now more than ever it is possibly the biggest clue as to where our collective endeavours should go as we consider how we shape rather than be shaped by our future.

Policymakers everywhere argue the need for focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics in our education. And there can be no doubt that if we were able to turn the clock back on the last few centuries then betting the house on these subjects would have been the safest of choices.

Acting on the lessons of history makes enormous sense but it also risks missing the point.

As this column has often rehearsed the single most important force in determining Scottish public policy is what we did yesterday. It tends to be what we do today and therefore tomorrow as well.

Challenging that can be extraordinarily difficult. And having a discussion about different choices in this climate of political madness all the more difficult. How can there be room to breathe or consider different approaches if you can’t be a Supreme Court judge doing the job that is asked of you without being vilified?

But we so desperately need to draw breath and reconsider our choices about how we garner our collective resources and how we allocate them for our own public good. We know that the way we have run our system in the last decades is now challenged to breaking point.

Reforming that and renewing the role of government for the century to come remains the biggest challenge of the moment. Distracted by Brexit, we are failing to address the most seismic changes affecting the planet and our society.

Bearing risk in the face of all of this is very difficult for policymakers and politicians. Far easier to carry on with what we did yesterday.

But if we had to make one or two big calls what might they be?

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If you have an hour to spend reflecting on this then I recommend that you read the speech given at the Glasgow School of Art last year by the chief economist of the Bank of England Andy Haldane. I have thought about it most days since I read it. It is outstanding.

He is one of the world’s most thoughtful and challenging policymakers. His speech was all about the role of creativity in driving the advances in our economy and society. He takes us on a cook’s tour of the last few centuries of human improvement and argues that creativity has to be at the heart of our response to what comes next.

By this he means backing creativity in and of itself, because it is there that “leaps of imagination” are found to transform our lives for the better as they always have. But also creativity in how we educate ourselves and what we educate for.

The National: Albert Einstein: Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the worldAlbert Einstein: Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world

The return from educating ourselves for the workforce of yesterday will be far less valuable than equipping ourselves to flourish in a world where work and the returns to it are completely different from now.

If our only responses to this are in glib party conference giveaways then we will fail. Our response has to be fundamental, comprehensive and will involve taking a risk.

And the most creative among us need to be creative now in determining what the “ask” will be of ourselves, government and policy.

Part of the answer must be in elevating the role and value of the arts and creativity in our education system to be seen as even more future-proof than the STEM subjects.

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I don’t know precisely what this means yet but I think for one thing this will mean music tuition ought to be universal and encouraged not a nice to have paid for add on. And more generally we need to back ourselves and those among us who create in word, music, art and more generally.

We pride ourselves on being the engineers of the industrial revolution and the scholars of the enlightenment.

What Einstein implies and Haldane argues is that it is by backing creativity that we will succeed in the face of the next revolution. And that will mean resource and effort on an exponentially greater scale than we provide today.

Thunberg abuse shows how far we have to go

AS the parent of a 14-year-old boy with Asperger’s, I watch in complete wonder the phenomenon that is Greta Thunberg.  The 16-year-old Swedish school girl has caught the attention of the planet as she seeks to push climate change up the political agenda.

The National: Greta Thunberg

As a result, she has drawn the fire of the worst excesses of the political madness that engulfs the world. She has been demeaned and criticised and belittled all the way through. Being a young woman with a voice is bad enough for many but being autistic is beyond the comprehension of some of the  most bigoted.

She was called “mentally ill” on US television this week. That this is deemed a put down is bad enough and oh so telling about the character of the man from whose lips these words dropped.

But what the whole controversy highlights to me is just how far we are from civilisation. We are in the process of conquering bigotry on many fronts in a world where it is now not acceptable to pre-judge someone on the grounds of gender, race, sexuality or religion. Good.

But we are a million miles from understanding difference when it comes to how our brains are wired and what makes us who we are. People with autism live their lives in the teeth of the resultant gale.

They see the world differently, process things differently, communicate differently. Each is unique. Each loves and wants to be loved. Each deserves love and understanding.

As our neurological make-up is not visible, it is much easier to dismiss or fail to understand. But understanding and accepting is probably the last frontier of our civilising process and watching the abuse meted out on Greta tells me we have such a distance to travel. I so wish we would all speed up.