HERE we are, already in September, after a summer which round my way seemed to last about three days. No sooner, then, have we let slip our latest political memories than we are forming new ones, ready for the Scottish election next year.

Luckily there is still all to play for, because the first moves, or at least the shufflings in the starting blocks, do not appear especially promising. Prime Minister Boris Johnson only needed a quick visit to Applecross, cut short in the middle at that, to find out how unpopular he is in Scotland. He could easily have done this by ordering the Scottish newspapers at Chequers. But those, I suspect, are among the many types of paper he does not read.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes a more formal start to the political high season today when she announces her Government’s programme for the period up to the poll next May, the last chance she will have to make a major statement about the priorities of herself and her colleagues.

Perhaps she will be missing an opportunity if, as has been advertised in advance, she concentrates on the immediate problems of coronavirus, only vaguely promising otherwise that the Scotland of the future will be “fairer, greener and more prosperous”.

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As ever, the devil will be in the detail, and I wonder if the Scottish Government has yet had the time really to go into the detail of existing spending programmes, themselves often the product of intensive research and discussion. Who knows what difference coronavirus will make? It is a problem we knew nothing about only five or six months ago. Even now, we are still on the learning curve, and we will not really master the pandemic till we have a vaccine for it.

Meanwhile, a lot of the old songs are still being sung. I wonder, for example, how coronavirus is going to affect the aim of equality that Scottish Government constantly proclaims for itself. By her own admission, the First Minister sees in it the supreme purpose of the modern Scotland and the ultimate justification of independence.

Yet, as often as not, when some relevant statistic is published, it shows the country becoming not a more equal but a less equal society.

I have my own explanation – that we will never have a more equal society while we remain a free society, in which the members largely determine their own standing.

If we want a more equal society we will also have a less free society, and I don’t want that. It makes me therefore happy when I read that, in terms of equality, Scotland remains in about the same condition as it was in 1979.

If we wanted a more equal society, we would need to take drastic action on a scale never attempted by any government, in Scotland or in the UK as a whole. We would have to stop trade unions practising agreements made among themselves on relative rates of pay, but that would be just the easy bit.

We would have to control the private earnings of professional people, and in the same category we would need to put footballers and pop stars. We would have to set limits to what businessmen could pay themselves in their own companies.

I would judge all this to be impossible in Scotland, because our Government just does not have the data to make such a policy possible. More likely, a scheme of rational wage determination would ignore the actual state of the labour markets and, by making them less efficient, keep us all poorer. For any government, it would be more trouble than it is worth.

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Is it my belief, then, that governments should just be indifferent to the levels of relative pay among the people they govern? I am tempted to say yes, but will readily allow one kind of exception.

We do have people on the poverty line, and I would like to help them. What I would seek to do is make sure that, year by year, each would receive some real increase in income, small though it might often be. It would be awarded without regard to conditions in the rest of the economy, that is, in the employed and productive economy. Here, wages would not be subject to any control. Most of the labour market would be free.

UNFORTUNATELY, this is all rather different from the policies for the Scottish labour market that the SNP Government actually bears in mind.

There are two notable aspects of it. By the end of this year, the country should have, up and running, a Scottish National Investment Bank. We do not yet know how large and how fast it might in time grow, but possibly it could at length take over the operation of the grants and loans that have long defined the relationship of state and business in Scotland. That all started while the UK was still a unitary state, continued under devolution and could carry on in an independent nation. It sounds nice enough but the money will be handed out under a catalogue of conditions, likely to embody a high degree of public intervention into all aspects of corporate affairs. In other words, in Scotland the state will run the economy, or try to.

The second aspect is more philosophical in outlook. In a speech a year ago to an industrial conference, the First Minister spelled out a new attitude emerging in business that she highly commended. It concentrated on what she called wellness, on how there could be a fresh attitude in the industrial world that concerned itself with the mental welfare of the workers, not just with their productive capacity.

The idea has not surfaced in Scotland alone, but in some others living under female leaders with a social conscience – New Zealand, Iceland, Norway, Finland. It also interests some leading statisticians trying to turn the trend into numbers that would be useful for policy-making. The trouble is that they cannot agree on a definition of wellness that would allow it to be measured and acted on by governments in this way.

For the purposes of economic management, it therefore remains less useful than conventional measures, such as gross domestic product (GDP). From the tables in which this is drawn up, anybody can just read off rises or falls in income, expenditure or output.

The importance of this has appeared again as we contemplate the consequences of the coronavirus crisis. Its biggest and most direct effect has been a crash in production, as workers have been quarantined or laid off and international trade comes grinding to a halt. In Scotland alone, between April and June this year, the economy shrank by nearly 20%.

GDP takes measurements like this in its stride. It exists for the purpose of making such estimates. And because GDP contains several different components, it can also be used to identify where government might take counter-measures.

I am not sure if the First Minister thinks growth a good thing. She is certainly less interested in consumer spending or industrial investment than she is in wellness. But she cannot stimulate wellness as she can stimulate spending or investment.

If she wants to bring back 20% of the economy, she would be hard put to say what types of wellness might do this. It’s hard enough to say so even when you do know what you are talking about, all the harder when you don’t. Till we have a growing economy, I don’t think we’ll have an independent nation.