Leader comment: Scotland approaching a historic political crossroads

Sometimes good news seems to be hard to find. New research showing Scots' personal living standards have fallen relative to other nations is yet another indication that austerity isn't going away any time soon.

Shoppers out in force on Glasgow's Buchanan Street (Picture: John Devlin)

According to the academic behind the research, Scots’ living standards have “fared relatively badly” over the past four years and this country is now in 18th place on a list of developed countries, slipping behind the UK as a whole in 17th.

Perhaps we shouldn’t feel too sorry for ourselves – Scotland is still ahead of both France and New Zealand which, from a distance at least, still seem like fairly decent places in the world to live.

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However, small countries like Ireland, Norway and Denmark are all well ahead with economic growth rates we can only envy.

Part of the slump detailed in the research is due to tough conditions for the North Sea industry in past years, but recently published figures have been more positive following rises in the global price of oil. So the importance of that sector on the country as a whole is still crystal clear.

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Opposition politicians lambasted the Scottish Government, saying the economy was “stuck in the doldrums” and blaming the “SNP’s mismanagement”.

The economic fortunes of any country are, of course, not entirely controlled by the government of the day but, for better or worse, they tend to carry the can or win the plaudits. Bill Clinton’s famous campaign slogan “It’s the economy, stupid” still resonates.

Economic reports may seem academic and dry but they catalogue people’s ordinary experiences. And public discontent does appear to have been increasing. And, with flat-lining wages, reports that some workers have been charged to receive their pay, and a new move by Angus Council to charge teachers £1 a day to park at the school where they work, that would be perfectly understandable.

Sooner or later that discontent will spill over and voters will punish the incumbent government, so it’s in the SNP’s interest to work hard to find ways to reinvigorate the economy.

The beneficiaries of any coming backlash look most likely to be Richard Leonard’s Labour or Ruth Davidson’s Tories so, given their radically different policies, Scotland may be approaching a political crossroads of historic significance.