When I was a child, there was a comedian who always started his gags by saying “I wanna tell you a story.” My guess is that he thought that there was something unusual about that. He was wrong.

Story telling is what we do all the time.

We understand who we are, how we fit into life, and how we relate to each other through the stories that we tell. We might think that there are things called facts that underpin those narratives, but the reality is that most of them are things we’ve told ourselves, or told each other.

It may really be true that, as the philosopher René Descartes said, “I think, therefore, I am”, and that everything else is open to doubt. I might, however, change his claim to suggest that “I tell stories, therefore I am” is the best explanation that we have of how we live our lives.

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Why do I say all this? It is because that when we talk about politics, economics, and their relationship to the things that I often refer to in this column, like nationhood, nationality, and national identity, the stories that we tell are particularly important.

What we think about any of these issues depends upon which stories that we believe, and which we choose to consign to the bin. That is precisely why our society is riven with political differences of opinion.

I have never felt this to be more important than it is present.

Right now, we are being governed from Westminster by a government that not only has no story to tell, but which has utterly lost the plot. Unsurprisingly, it is heading for political oblivion.

The situation is better at Holyrood, but not much. The SNP, as the main anti-Union party, was able to create a pro-independence narrative that was the basis for its political support for years. Now, as is all too apparent, just where that story goes next is not clear to anyone, including its leadership.

Meanwhile, waiting on the sidelines is Labour. It is, indisputably, doing well politically at present. But, as far as I can tell that is mainly because it has given up on storytelling whilst the Tories and SNP are struggling to find anything useful to say about their continuing claims on power.

The National:

The Labour does not have anything much to say at present was all too apparent during its recent party conference. Its only political advantage is that it has imposed sufficient discipline upon its membership that some of them, at least, are fooled by their leadership’s silence on almost any subject that matters.

None of this fills me with hope for the next general election, whenever it might be. When all three major political parties at Westminster have lost their political narratives, with the only remaining difference between them being their ability to hide that fact, we are in deep trouble. To add to my disquiet, the LibDems seem to have little more to say whilst the Greens have almost no chance of winning a Westminster seat in Scotland whatever they say.

Why have we got to this terrible position? The explanation is easy.

The neoliberal economic narrative that has been used by all these parties to explain the economic choices available to us for the last forty years failed in 2008. In that year the world’s banks faced oblivion through bankruptcy. They were only saved by massive government interventions.

That this was possible was precisely because governments could, it turned out, create almost unlimited sums of money to save these bankrupt financial institutions. This fact should have shattered the myth of market dominance that underpins the whole neoliberal view of life. The problem was it did not.

That was because there was no alternative economic narrative to replace that neoliberal one. All the old tales had been forgotten. No new ones were available.

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And so, for the lack of a new story to tell the failed economic system has staggered on, supported by government money creation, political narratives that demand austerity and high interest rates (both of which have caused untold harm), and the collective belief of all political leaders, whatever their party badge, that they can do nothing to challenge the supposed superiority of a market system that is not now delivering for us all.

The result is that the only political offering now available across the UK is much the same whoever is talking. The dismal part of that is that the offering is of yet more failure. The story of national economic decline that the UK has suffered cannot be improved by trying to do more of the same things that caused it, but that is what will be offered at a general election.

So what should we be looking for instead?

The challenge facing all politicians of all parties is, now, to create a better narrative, or as I like to suggest, a better song to sing.

Deep down we all know what that song is. It requires that we spend more on our public services. It demands that we re-distribute wealth from those who save it to those who need it. And it requires that we talk about society again.

That means that we do not treat government as separate from business, or business as being in competition with individuals, but that instead we look at how, working together, we can create better outcomes for everyone.

It also means that we have to work out answers to all those questions about identity that have figured so significantly in Scottish politics of late, including just what it means to think of Scotland as a nation.

None of this is easy. The trouble is, the alternatives are much worse.