NEWS over last weekend that former chancellor Sajid Javid had been planning the mother of all giveaway Budgets nicely takes his revenge for being forced from office.

At the very least, it puts his virginal successor Rishi Sunak on the spot, and behind him the slap-happy bossman Boris Johnson.

In the next few days, the pair of them must decide whether to outdo Javid on the 2p in the pound income tax cut he wanted, or else to rein back on what would have been the boldest fiscal move for decades. In the one case they add to an impression of governmental recklessness, in the other case they look stingy – not what Boris wants at all.

This column is content to leave them impaled on the horns of their dilemma till we hear the actual details of the Budget a week tomorrow.

Today, let’s focus on what the whole situation might mean for Scotland. Although we have our own devolved Budget, ably delivered in mid-February by Kate Forbes, still it needs to be worked out within limits set down in London, and to conform to the overall aims of UK policy. If Westminster ordains austerity, then we have austerity. If it allows a spending splurge, we can enjoy one too.

With his majority of 80 seats, it’s easy for Boris to prattle on about a change of direction. UK finances are one area where he can make it appear as though, for once, he means what he says. Austerity was a reality while David Cameron and George Osborne sought to cut their inherited deficit from £100 billion in 2010. It continued to be a reality while Theresa May and Philip Hammond followed on along the path of virtue to a budget surplus. Now, rumours in Whitehall have it that the UK Government will be untroubled by a deficit next year of £60bn. This can beyond doubt be managed. The UK’s rating on international financial markets is robust enough for it to finance a sum of this order with little trouble.

The question is not whether it can do that or not but whether it wants to or not – with the results, for example, that it would spend more of its revenue in paying interest on the borrowings, and leave a huge burden of debt to future generations.

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At any rate, we can reasonably say the era of austerity we have endured since 2008 has come to an end. Boris’s government is not merely relaxed about the commitments it has inherited or may bequeath, but beyond that is actively seeking out opportunities for spectacular public expenditure. So long as this remains true, advocates for a bridge from Galloway to Ulster need not despair.

What does have to happen in Scotland is that Nicola Sturgeon’s government must change its tune. Austerity has been a rallying cry for as long as the SNP have been in office.

It has amply served its purpose in winning majority after majority at both Scottish and UK elections. But can it ring true if in future Boris’s government is not, as a matter of fact, pursuing a policy of austerity? Compared with Nicola Sturgeon’s illiberal impulse to micro-manage all our lives, is there not a risk Scots might instead be seduced by his politics of the grand gesture and the call to be bold and brave?

The National:

I agree Boris will again have a problem in matching vain vows with determined deeds, but it would be foolish to dismiss any chance he might be able to.

In other words, the Scottish Government needs a new independence narrative to counter the bombast from Westminster.

I don’t think Brexit can really serve that purpose much longer, despite having been the main focus of the SNP’s victorious campaign in the General Election. Brexit is done now, and it will be hard to rekindle great public interest in the nitty-gritty of the transitional negotiations in Brussels. Even if Scotland should win independence in 2021, we cannot get straight back into the EU. As a political issue it’s fairly moribund.

Can a resolute stance on the climate replace it, stimulated by Glasgow’s global conference later in the year (coronavirus permitting)? Nicola declared a climate emergency in 2019, but her trumpet has since sounded a less certain note. An emergency is worse than a mere risk or a danger, yet we do not mean to reach net-zero emissions before 2045: nothing drastic, then.

I also wonder how a green agenda squares with the SNP’s long-established position to make Scots richer by putting an end to the UK Government’s hijacking of our resources – underlined with the republication in The National last week of the report by Gavin McCrone on North Sea oil, first written in 1974 but kept secret for 30 years. So far, we may have extracted half the oil available, leaving perhaps 20 billion barrels of it still under the sea. All these estimates are highly uncertain, but if that one is anywhere near correct it equates to eight billion tons of carbon emissions ready to be released thanks to Scotland’s pursuit of its own material interests.

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I’m not saying Scotland should spurn its own material interests. Voters are unlikely to let this happen anyway. They worry less about the climate in 25 years’ time than about their own homes and families during the months ahead, whether they can pay the mortgage or buy a new car or take the family on a holiday in the sun.

The National:

The SNP have always promised material benefits from independence (“It’s Scotland’s oil”). Now the First Minister seems close to disowning this approach. I think we should be told. So long as the Scottish Government tries to have it both ways, a new independence narrative will be lacking.

Linked with these shifting perspectives is another vexed question, of what we should do, or whether indeed we should do anything at all, to raise our feeble rate of economic growth. It runs behind the UK growth rate, which is itself a listless one by international standards.

After coming to power, the SNP undertook to elevate the Scottish rate towards the UK rate, but this has never happened in any consistent fashion. No wonder, then, that Nicola feels tempted to claim the boring statistics of gross domestic product matter little compared to the concept of “wellness”, as she set it out in a speech last summer. The trouble is that wellness remains as yet such a nebulous idea as to yield no useful information on how well or badly we may be doing, or how we can do better in future.

GDP, for all its failings, does give a proven and sound basis for policy, and is used as such in almost every one of the world’s economies. If the Scottish Government is turning against it, that may be less because of its inherent flaws than because it generates results Nicola doesn’t like.

In short, 2020, so far from being a year in which Scotland strides resolutely on to freedom, is exposing, a couple of months in, how much useless baggage from the defunct era of austerity we are still weighed down with. It was not a good era for the nation, but now it is in the past.

We need to clear its detritus from our memories and from our forward planning.

Independence will not come till we find the right policies and the right leaders to recommend it with conviction as the way ahead for the Scots people.