WE had been seeing, I guessed last week, the final sunny days of the year, as they agreeably co-incided with the emergence of crowds on the streets, blinking in the pale post-Covid light.

This being Scotland, we knew it couldn’t last. In the Lowlands the deviations from the inclement norm had already been bizarre enough, with tranquil warmth from Clyde to Forth setting bounds to the cloudbursts over England. And most of us learned of a Highland heat dome for the first time, since it is not a frequent occurrence. Tyndrum, heaven help us, had three consecutive days of more than 75F (24C).

It is all too easy to believe respite from the pandemic will be equally unreliable. When I look out the window of my study, I see pedestrians already exhibiting a surely foolish faith in their own state of health. They have turned the face mask into a rarity, so that once again – it’s been such a long time – we can recognise our neighbours’ features and make out what they have to say. But I fear we should remain wary of our pores being probed and pierced by the possibly fatal droplets of saliva from others.

From politicians the spray may be especially noxious. It is notable how often, right through 2021, they have made headlines for themselves as they urged controls on our lives to an extent unheard of in the past. But much of the time they have been wrong, and law-abiding Scotland has offered a remarkable example of how wrong they could be, even when partly right.

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With her riveting press conferences, so authoritative yet somehow so comforting, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has instilled in her electorate an extraordinary conviction that she has been getting everything right about the pandemic. Of course,

it helps to have a clown like Boris Johnson as your opposite number in London, feebly failing to perform the same task for a UK audience.

The fact remains, however, that Nicola has often underestimated the severity of the pandemic. It was, in fact, worse than she let us believe. Scotland has been about the sixth-most-infected country in the world, or vying for that position with England, heaven help us.

At least Nicola has never been a cryptic ally of the sensationalist tabloid press, and seems to have almost perfected the art of keeping her government untroubled by leaks. Boris, by contrast, will have been the ultimate source of numerous trivial but amazing stories.

He had already started a personal campaign when he went to address the UN General Assembly last month about the climate summit. His boosterism transferred seamlessly to the global stage. He sought to raise expectations that Glasgow would witness a world-saving triumph, “the turning point for humanity”. All we can really discern two weeks out is a number of fiendishly complex challenges, none of them gathering round themselves any unassailable consensus.

Boris ideally needed targets for carbon emissions robust enough to prevent destructive levels of global warming at some point in a future indeterminate but certainly on its way. There was never any great likelihood of that, though it might have been possible to awaken a more limited, but still critical, ambition of containing global warming to no more than 1.5C centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Even that seems pretty remote.

Curiously, while Nicola and Boris seem to be pursuing similar strategies, their tactical approach is markedly different. The master of the universe from 10 Downing Street gives way to the goddess of small things at the Scottish Event Campus: “We’ve got to be careful that we don’t leave people and communities behind in that [energy] transition.”

Even Scotland – small country, big energy reserves – faces fiendish problems. Says Nicola: “We’ve got to be careful we don’t switch domestic production to imports of oil and gas – that would be counter-productive … So the way in which we make the transition matters, but we can’t have business as usual, because if we keep telling ourselves we can rely on fossil fuels forever, then we’ll never make that transition and that’s the key point we’ve got to address.”

SEEING this, it’s possible even Scotland already has too many goals. Nicola’s own favourite is that climatic reforms should foster equality. It may sound good, but she has not told us how. What, after all, is the purpose of climate reforms?

The term can only mean that, over a longish timespan (it will hardly be less than a matter of decades) the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere will grow more slowly, and that in hot places or at hot times the heat will be a bit less, and that lower volumes of water will fall from the sky in areas already soaked enough.

It is also hard to see how these developments in the physical world of nature are going to bring about a differential change in the nature of societies.

An example of equality would be that, for example, Malawi (to choose a country with old Scottish links) will not only get richer but will get richer faster than Scotland. Blantyre, Lanarkshire will have less rain or more sun than it has now, but so will Blantyre by Lake Nyasa, and it will get relatively richer too.

I’m afraid I just don’t see how this works beyond definition of the problem. There will be economic failures too. There always are.

In socialist countries, a traditional way of dealing with the inevitable economic failures is to fiddle the statistics. I won’t be hasty in my judgment but merely note my disquiet that Scotland, Iceland and New Zealand have set up a network of Wellbeing Economy Governments to challenge the previous almost universal international acceptance of gross domestic product as the final measure of a country’s success.

For example, Scotland has a GDP of more than £170 billion (£30,000 per head), while Malawi has a GDP of less than £6bn (£300 per head).

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Without denying such huge disparities, the WEGs simply lecture the rest of the world that the wrong things are being measured. Sturgeon explains that a “wellbeing economy” gives equivalent weight to factors such as equal pay, childcare, mental health and access to green space at its heart. This new focus, she says, could build the resolve to confront global challenges.

That’s as maybe, but the advantage of GDP is that it gives us consistent statistics stretching as far back as the first half of the last century, and so is without compare in its measurement of change. Of the new things the First Minister wants measured, none can give us the same degree of accuracy. There are economists working on that, but none has yet succeeded.

A retort to Sturgeon is that she has not yet brought her own government’s expenditure under a degree of control that would be acceptable to any lender in the world (her own channel for financing the deficit runs straight to the UK Treasury).

The SNP talk a lot about spending, seldom about raising cash. Her own agenda would be more persuasive if she could accept government has limits.