The National:

AS a democrat who believes that we need more political co-operation rather than less, if the will of the people of any country is to be properly reflected in its government, I had every reason to welcome the recent deal between the SNP and Greens on future arrangements for the government of Scotland.

Saying that, I am not a member of any political party, so what I was keen to see was what this might mean. I noted some good stuff on tax abuse and other issues, and then found this statement on what was excluded from the deal:

"While we share an ambition that Scotland should be a wellbeing economy that measures its success by reference to environmental and social objectives as well as economic objectives, the role of Gross Domestic Product measurements, and economic principles related to concepts of sustainable growth and inclusive growth, are excluded from this agreement."

That took me back a bit. To be candid, that’s a bit like saying the Greens and SNP agree on everything except the biggest issue that’s driven government economic policy in the entire post-Second World War era. That big issue is growth.

There isn’t a government in the UK in that era that has not promised to deliver growth. And the way that they have measured their success has been by recording increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – which is meant to approximate to the total national income a country. Now there are the two parties agreeing to disagree on this issue, but to still co-operate in governing. No wonder they aren’t calling this a coalition.

The National:

I think that this matters. If they intend to honour this agreement then the Greens and SNP are saying they will not agree with each other on how to measure the success of the deal that they have reached. That said, I am with the Greens on this issue, since it is they who, I suspect, have the reservations about GDP as a measure.

The most famous quote on the uselessness of GDP as a measure probably came from Robert Kennedy before he was assassinated during his bid to become US President in 1968. He said that GDP: "Does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans."

If you substituted Scotland for America in the last sentence you’d know exactly why the Greens are right to reject GDP as a useful measure. The hopes, aspirations and quality of life of a nation can never be captured by GDP.

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The uselessness of GDP as a measure is indicated by one of its quirks, which I have often mentioned to students. One of the single biggest boosts to the GDP of Alaska in its history was the crashing of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez onto its coastline in 1989, eventually spreading 11 million gallons of oil over 1,300 miles of its shores. The cost of clearing up the mess added massively to its GDP, but not one iota to the sum of human wellbeing, I suspect. So GDP is not a good measure and the Greens are right to reject it.

I am inclined to agree with them on questioning the term "inclusive growth" as well. The London based Royal Society of Arts has defined inclusive growth as "enabling more people and places to both contribute to and benefit from economic success". It is an idea with which I have some difficulty. That reads very like the failed idea of "trickle down" economics to me – where GDP is increased for the benefit of a few wealthy people in society with the hope that there will be something extra left over for the rest, with little real concern for the environment featuring in the mix.

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Sustainable growth, on the other hand, says that there are limits to the demands that we can make on our planet, but no limit to the amount of education, care, art and entertainment that we can provide to each other. Or in other words, it encourages all the really valuable things that GDP really does not measure. The differences between the Greens and SNP are in that case really big.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, because it really does not look like they are singing from the same hymn sheet to me.