WHAT have flying saucers and little green men (LGM) got to do with GERS, the annual report on public spending in Scotland?

Bet that’s got your attention. The answer – to my increasingly frustrated brain – is that the bizarre presentation of both subjects in legacy and social media represents an utter collapse of intelligent, rational discourse.

For I have lived to see sensible political debate replaced by mind bogglingly stupid assertion; to witness partisan positions promoted over hard evidence even on the front pages; and to experience a general avoidance of material reality and truth if gets in the way of vested interests.

Yes folks, I am now officially a grumpy old man.

Recently, the US Congress held solemn public hearings on the existence of Unidentified Flying Objects – now and unaccountably rechristened as unexplained anomalous phenomena (UAPs).

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Three key witnesses testified, including David Grusch, a former US Air Force intelligence officer and Afghanistan veteran, who claimed with a straight face that the Pentagon has in its possession several “intact and partially intact” alien craft.

Mr Grusch maintained that the US government has conducted a “multi-decade” programme which attempted to reverse-engineer crashed UFOs. He also claimed that he had knowledge of “people who have been harmed or injured” in the course of government efforts to conceal UFO information.

Unaccountably, Mr Grusch was unwilling to state under Congressional oath some of the more outlandish (!) claims regarding UFOs that he has made to various media.

Grusch is insistent that the US government has recovered alien bodies from crashed flying saucers. Shades of the movie Independence Day.

I’m not surprised by politicians milking this stuff for publicity. I’m not surprised by newspapers and TV programmes filling a slow summer news schedule with tales of little green (or is it blue?) cadavers. But I worry when this nonsense starts to get treated seriously. Tap into social media and you will quickly find it is being.

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For the record, I think alien intelligent life is highly likely to exist in our infinite universe. But the balance of probability suggests – given the vast distances involved and the massive resources required to travel them – we are unlikely to have received multiple secret visits by multiple ET species, as Congress heard.

And the idea that during and after the Cold War, Washington and Moscow – through every political twist and turn – have engaged in a conscious conspiracy to hide the existence of aliens is up there with Nasa faking the moon landings or the equally insane notion the deep state is hiding the fact the Earth is flat.

OK, rant over. But it is still worrying that the boundary in public discourse between the rational and the merely opinionated has broken down – perhaps irretrievably.

The internet has permitted and validated every sort of daft theory, be it about fabulous lost civilisations, Satanic plots fronted by the Clintons to kidnap and abuse children, or the existential threat to the British way of life from a few boatloads of sea-drenched African refugees.

Yes, yes, in my day folk asked, “who really killed Kennedy?”, but the loonies were still recognised as loonies.

My pet theory is that it was the impact of the two world wars in the 20th century that elevated – for a time – the primacy of logical, evidence-based thinking, even in politics. You can’t fight wars and win them by ignoring reality. Plus you need science big time.

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That’s not an argument for more wars, by the way. But it is to recognise that on both sides of the left-right political divide, from 1945 till circa the end of the century, political debate centred mostly around real distributional problems rather than ideological fantasy. And that the media were largely responsible enough to separate hard material evidence from assertion, particularly in economics.

BUT not now. I’ve grown weary to the point of ennui with how the media misinterpret – or downright falsify – the data in the annual Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland (GERS) report.

It’s hardly an argument worth having because the Unionist media and Unionist stooges will simply say what they want to say, regardless of the numbers.

Once upon a time, in the 1990s when I was teaching economics to undergraduates, you could debate GERS rationally. The original pilot version published by Tory Scottish secretary Ian Lang – a terribly nice man actually and still with us – was very flawed.

But these flaws were eventually admitted after withering, forensic criticism from Jim and Margaret Cuthbert, the superstar statistical brains of the indy movement back then.

Fast forward to the latest GERS, published last week.

“GERS figures, produced by Scottish Government’s own economists, prove Scotland is better off in the UK” opined Pamela Nash in The Scotsman. Ms Nash, CEO of a Unionist pressure group, was worried that Scotland’s notional budget deficit (at £19bn according to GERS) was almost the same as our NHS spending (£17.6bn).

What she failed to mention is that the Holyrood administration is precluded by law from running a deficit. The £19bn figure is Scotland’s notional share of the Tory Westminster government’s shortfall.

Legally, an independent Scotland would not be liable for any of that debt. We might agree to take on some of it after indy but we’re not obliged to under international law. Everybody knows these facts, yet Ms Nash was happy to ignore the factual nuances in pursuit of a specious political argument.

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Besides, does Ms Nash even understand how bond markets work? Does your average Tory newspaper editorial writer?

The UK Government pays interest on its bonds at a higher rate than do most small European states. Reason: the UK has a humongous total debt, so the tail risk of default carries a higher price than for countries with a smaller total debt and smaller tail risk.

Which means the interest payments GERS applies to Scotland would not be as high after independence – even if we took on the whole notional debt share. But who on the Unionist side is interested in treating the Scottish people as adults? Better to feed them intellectual crud.

Incidentally, knowing that the cost of borrowing for normal small industrial economies in Europe is lower on average than for the UK gives the lie that the being part of the Union provides some sort of economic insurance policy. In fact, it costs Scotland money – cash that comes out of your pocket.

Unionists claim Scotland benefits from financial redistribution within the Union – hence our notional higher public spending per head. In fact, without Scottish oil and whisky exports generating foreign currency for the UK, I suspect Westminster’s borrowing costs would be even higher than they are.

No, Scotland pays through the nose for its Unionist membership card. Which is why London won’t let us go.

I’ll believe in little green (or blue) UFO people when one of them turns up in person to Congress to testify. And my faith in rational political debate will be restored when Unionist media outlets and commentators start to admit that Scotland is perfectly capable of surviving as an independent economy with a Western standard of living, just like any other small European state.

Until then, watch the skies!