AFTER the Bank of England forecast a dire drop of 14% in UK production for 2020, it is only fair to note that a good deal of thought is at the same time being given to the question of how on Earth we are ever going to get out of this Covid mess.

Nicola Sturgeon may be one of those who can offer such thought if she talks to the right people. Last week, we learned about some ideas likely to be forthcoming from the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery that the First Minister has appointed with this very purpose in mind.

The group’s chairman is Benny Higgins, not quite a household name, although he has been hanging about in the top echelons of Scottish banking for a long time. He spent the most controversial part of his career in the senior management of the Royal Bank of Scotland while George Mathewson and Fred Goodwin were running it before its effective collapse and rescue by the UK Government in 2008.

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To his credit, Higgins had fallen out with his ill-fated bosses and parted from them in 2005. He ended up in charge of Tesco Bank, which specialises in personal finance rather than the corporate or public finance that bigger banks go for.

If the old Royal Bank had existed in an independent Scotland, it might well have caused a crisis of the state, as similar bloated institutions did in Greece or Argentina

In this job he came to the notice of the First Minister and obviously met with her approval, to judge from the fact she made him head of the Scottish National Investment Bank (SNIB), which is due to start work this year.

It was still an appointment that prompted mixed reactions, precisely because of the difference between a Tesco Bank that deals with the retail needs of small customers and the sort of bank, like SNIB, on which the fate of nations and their governments may depend. If the old Royal Bank had existed in an independent Scotland, it might well have caused a crisis of the state, as similar bloated institutions did in Greece or Argentina. Is Higgins a sound enough man to have dealt with a crunch on this scale? His new post should tell us.

It is, of course, true that SNIB is expected to take on a role rather different from the remaining types of Scottish bank, paying attention primarily to the jobs and wealth meant to be created by any new financial schemes. Its investments are supposed to be patient investments, ambitious in their long-term aims and therefore not diverted by short-term difficulties.

To help with the identification of these investments, Higgins’s advisory group will consist of seven other people, each bringing to it some particular expertise.

The best known is Italian-born Sir Anton Muscatelli, principal of the University of Glasgow, an economist of international standing and a champion of academic reform. Anna Vignoles is professor of education at the University of Cambridge. Dieter Helm is professor of economic policy at the University of Oxford, and its greatest Green. John Kay, a son of Edinburgh but another Oxford economist, is better known as a wide-ranging media commentator.

Scottish investment managers look after funds totalling £800 billion for clients round the world

Four professors certainly give the advisory group all the intellectual weight it needs, and the other three members offer varied representation of the non-academic world. Dame Sue Bruce might be described as an all-purpose quangocrat, who gained most prominence as chief executive of Edinburgh City Council. Dame Julia Unwin, of similar distinction, is according to The Guardian a “major player in the voluntary sector.” And Grahame Smith is outgoing general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress.

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Obviously the advisory group is very much a collection of the Great and Good, outsiders as well as home-grown, but altogether similar to the sort of people who have been running Scotland for as long as we can remember, with what success any of us can judge.

But it is astonishing that they do not include a single one of Scotland’s leading businessmen in those sectors where we are among the best – financial services, commercial software, tourism and hospitality, oil and gas. These are activities round which we create real jobs rather than merely contributing revenue to the inflated Scottish public sector.

FOR example, Scotland houses the UK’s second-biggest financial cluster, with 85,000 people employed across banking, pensions, insurance and asset management. The historic chartered banks may have bitten the dust in the last 20 years, but they still hold a quarter of all UK deposits. Scottish policy on pensions is expensive. Scottish insurance companies are among the largest quoted on the stock exchange.

Above all we are losing that 14% of output, or about £1 in every £7 of what we were earning before

Scottish investment managers look after funds totalling £800 billion for clients round the world. In innovative sectors, the development of financial software is a huge growth area in Scotland, with Dundee leading the way.

And it is not just in a sectoral sense that Scotland enjoys critical mass. We breed personnel who stimulate one another through professional proximity, exciting example, critical competition and managerial mastery.

That is why, even in hard times, we have generated innovations in a world class of their own. Think of Skyscanner, the traveller’s friend, or Craneware, the universal guide to healthcare complexity. The Wood Group made a reality of the slogan “It’s Scotland’s Oil”. The Weir Group has brought Clydeside’s engineering tradition into the 21st century.

Is there really nobody from among these Scottish success stories who could give the First Minister proven practical commercial advice superior to that from the assorted academics and bowing boffins she has actually chosen? But she has a bad reputation for paying heed only to those she really wants to hear from, which is why she tends to spurn common or garden capitalists and look for sexy ideas from the fringes of intellectual respectability.

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In normal times that might be fair enough, indeed commendable. But in 2020 we are weighed down by mass unemployment and falling living standards. Above all we are losing that 14% of output, or about £1 in every £7 of what we were earning before. There are readers who write letters to the editor arguing we should end the pursuit of economic growth, even shrink our activity a little. If it declined by 2% annually, we would be flatlining till 2027. This does not sound like a good idea.

On the contrary, by hook or by crook, we should make up for the loss and try to put back into the people’s pockets resources to maintain their standard of living.

At the same time, not every idea and scheme will be equally meritorious. Nicola herself has said such a strategy will allow “innovative investment solutions”, like the one sponsored by her Government at Prestwick Airport. Unfortunately that was a bit of a flop, as its successor project at Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow may turn out to be, too.

The secret of success lies not just in any old spending of public money but in taking all the measures the relevant investment needs to turn it into a profitable part of the capitalist system. If not, we can only look forward to a performance of the Scottish economy that gets worse and worse – along with, we may also be sure, the prospects of national independence.