WHAT is the historic mission of Scottish nationalism? There are many answers to this question, of course. The recovery of national identity and self-determination. Freedom from eternal control. A cultural renaissance.

But in the popular debate one issue has always predominated: fixing the economy. And fixing the economy – the British one as well as the Scottish – is about to re-emerge as top of the agenda in this year’s General Election, courtesy of Keir Starmer.

Labour have sought for a long time to craft a political message to define a positive reason to vote for them, other than ditching a terminally divided and utterly clueless Tory administration. The Tories may be useless but that does nor guarantee Labour success because the electorate has become permanently suspicious of all the political parties.

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The failure of our democratic system to deliver any solutions to any current problems – from lacklustre economic growth to the lack of affordable housing, from broken Brexit promises to planetary warming – has turned off the electorate wholesale and opened the door to populism or worse.

A recent YouGov poll found that only 19% of young UK adults (18-24) thought that democracy was working versus 55% who think it is failing.

But Labour are stumbling towards some sort of message. Specifically, they are presenting themselves as the growth party. The party that will fix Britain’s sclerotic economic growth before it raises welfare spending. The party ready to sweep away nimbyism and force local authorities to build more houses according to a national target.

The party ready to redesignate swathes of the green belt for new housing, especially in the South of England.

The team that promises to build a new electrical power transmission system even if it means covering the countryside in pylons. A Labour government that will revive the building of whole new towns, to solve the housing crisis and generate growth through a construction boom.

Well, that is what Sir Keir and his sidekick, the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves, are promising us. They’ve not yet invented a pithy label for this policy revolution, to rival Harold Wilson’s infamous declaration that Labour would harness science and “the white, hot heat of the technological revolution” to rebuild Britain.

But I don’t doubt Sir Keir’s new army of spin doctors will come up with something in time for the election.

Should we believe them? But that is not the point. Starmer and Reeves (below) have a shiny new growth narrative and that gives Labour some traction. Here in Scotland, it would be dangerous to dismiss Labour’s new political clothes – especially as the SNP lack any competing selling point now that an indy referendum is in cold storage.

The National: File photograph of shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves

It’s also the case that Labour presenting itself as the party of growth might chime well with young voters, a demographic the party needs to capture in droves if it is to secure a majority.

Current polls have Labour winning the support across the UK of 57% of voters aged under 24, while it attracts only 30% of those over 64. Again, the SNP have to watch that Labour do not capture a young demographic the nationalists always considered their own.

But will young folk succumb to the blandishments of the notoriously charmless Keir Starmer? And surely prioritising economic growth over environmental concerns is a big turn off for them? Especially as Reeves has effectively ditched Labour’s earlier promise to spend £28 billion per annum on green projects, to including a massive home insulation programme.

However, Labour are banking on the fact that a generation that has missed out on owning its own home might be tempted by promises of a housebuilding revolution. Older folk who have paid off their mortgage are more likely to vote Tory but renters favour Labour.

OF course, cynics (me included) might doubt Sir Keir’s willingness or capacity to actually prosecute an economic growth revolution, far less take on a ravening Tory media shedding crocodile tears over the green belt. Besides, land supply is constrained permanently in the populous English south.

A true housing revolution would imply a massive shift of resources and direction of industry to Scotland and the north of England. It would also mean a return of local authority housebuilding on a massive scale, with implications for council funding.

But such a radical socialist agenda is hardly likely to appeal to Starmer and Reeves. I fear that a Starmer government will quickly fails to deliver on its growth promises, paving the way for a dangerous populist backlash.

All this has specific lessons for Scotland. To go back to my original question: what is the historic mission of Scottish nationalism? The modern indy movement emerged in the late 1960s and early 70s as a response to the deliberate de-industrialisation of the Scottish economy.

Westminster was happy to grab Scottish oil revenues but looked askance as our industrial base imploded. As a result, Scots looked to their own devices and the independence movement gathered pace.

London countered with increasing doses of devolution but the economic crisis remained. Scottish economic growth remains far below that of similar small nations in Europe, while foreign interests have gobbled up ownership of our industry and land, exporting the profits abroad.

Growth and re-industrialisation were always the goals – independence was the means. Even under our feeble form of devolved government, SNP ministers should have been willing and able to demonstrate a greater commitment to boosting the economy. Instead – particularly after the 2014 referendum – they made two major mistakes.

First, they pursued a policy of unsustainable financial redistribution instead of focusing on raising economic growth (which could have funded more social spending). Second, they naively relied on encouraging foreign investment to boost economic fortunes.

That strategy only offshored control of economic decision-making and sent hard-earned profits out of the country, making us poorer. One obvious result was the failure – despite extravagant early promises from John Swinney – to generate a jobs bonanza from offshore power generation.

This glaring weakness on the economic front has left the SNP government defenceless in the face of a challenge from Starmer’s new growth agenda – even if the latter proves bogus in the long run. But there is still time to reverse course.

So here are a few pointers for kickstarting economic growth in Scotland in time for the Holyrood election in May 2026. Start by instituting a massive housebuilding programme via the local authorities, which have a legal right to borrow.

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The debt will be offset by the new assets and the rental income will pay the interest. Holyrood should use its planning powers to accelerate land transfers and construction starts.

A decent building programme would add at least a percentage point to annual GDP. Given that growth in 2023 looks to be around 0.3%, that would be a massive increase.

Next: change the remit and leadership of the ineffectual Scottish National Investment Bank to make it more proactive. With the SNIB, the SNP government created a tool for investment. Now’s the time to use it.

And while we’re about it, close Scottish Enterprise and transfer the resources to create a Department for Re-industrialisation. Let’s create our own growth story in Scotland.