IT’S turning out a long, chilly, dreich, depressing winter and I’ve rather given up seeking a little cheer among my fellow columnists – certainly those who write as if Scotland were one of the world’s poorest countries, a sort of European Somalia, instead of the 18th richest.

I make an exception for Andrew Tickell, who like me is worried about the political consequences of that streak of invincible pessimism in the Scots’ psyche. In a recent column he felt prompted to write: “Too often, Scottish discussions of class and politics quickly descend into nostalgia and cliché. Scots have an insatiable appetite for the post-industrial misery memoir which is becoming less and less representative of the experiences of the majority of people in this country. It is premised on a kind of bleak nostalgia. And insofar as Nationalist politics is premised on this nostalgia, it can only fail, and fail, and fail.”

This is a timely warning to a Scottish Government that otherwise seeks its refuge from reality either in jaunty make-believe (“the economy is resilient”) or else in obfuscation. Against this last I warned in my previous column, when I took issue with current efforts in various quarters, including even the World Economic Forum at Davos, to change the way we conventionally measure economic activity and economic success.

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The new trend might be of special appeal here, because Scotland is hardly doing well on the conventional measurements. In fact it had in the latest quarter the lowest positive growth rate in the world: 0.1 per cent.

So, as in effect they say at Holyrood, to hell with the conventional measurements! Let’s choose different measurements which will not only make us look better but will also more closely reflect our aspirations, or at least the aspirations our political establishment wants us to have – inclusiveness, for example, or sustainability.

I answered a week ago that the aspirations would then be difficult to reduce to any normal sort of economic analysis, making comparison with other countries harder rather than easier (but perhaps this is the intention). I also suggested that, even if the conceptual problems could be overcome, the results would not in the end make so very much difference to Scotland’s relative international standing: the trouble would have gone for nothing.

I’m going to test my views once more against some readers’ responses to my column. Dr Mary Brown of Banchory wrote in to say: “I think we should be very careful of taking Michael’s advice and letting human initiative and ingenuity solve all our challenges, unless we are certain that these ingenious humans share our values of justice and fairness for all.”

It would be interesting to know by which other means than human initiative and ingenuity we are going to meet all our challenges, but I’ll leave that aside. What Mary in effect asks for here is the rule of philosopher kings (nowadays philosopher queens too).

It’s a concept going back to the Athens of the fifth century BC, to Plato. He is the usual starting point for degrees in political science even today. Beguiling as his scheme of things may appear at first glance, undergraduates are encouraged to think it through. If philosopher kings and queens truly are superior to everybody else, then why bother with parliaments, elections and the tiresome apparatus of democracy?

Perhaps intelligent tyranny is preferable to the messiness of most political systems, especially if this tyranny also defines what justice and fairness mean (and who is going to stop it from doing so?). By the end of their first year, students tend to decide this is not such a good idea after all.

Actual historical experience bears out their scepticism. It’s hard to think of many practical examples where Plato’s aim has been realised. A possible candidate is the Florence of the Medici, which was not democratic but which had huge economic and cultural achievements to its credit. When I was at university, admittedly quite a long time ago, we probably would have chosen the Founding Fathers of the US as the most philosophical regime ever. But since then it’s been recalled how many of them were slave-owners: goodbye to that notion.

With the best will in the world, I don’t think the present Scottish Government comes quite into the same league. Mary says Nicola Sturgeon occupies the “moral high ground”. I’ve written before how Nicola and her colleagues appear to share this opinion and so to regard themselves in principle as omnipotent, at liberty to interfere in every private or public sphere, for the present only constrained by the terms of the devolution settlement and by their lack of a parliamentary majority.

Yet where they are free to exercise their power, their guiding principle is the pork-barrel. Look at their manifesto for the Scottish election of 2016 – page after page of spending commitments, set against how many proposals on ways to pay for it all? Six. This irresponsible pattern was set in the bad old days of Labour dominance in Scotland, and I’m sorry the SNP seems uninterested in anything better. Our only saving grace is that all the opposition parties remain even worse.

With the letter from Jim Taylor of Edinburgh I move on to ground more congenial to me. He said: “The best way to describe the global economy is that it is in a state of flux, it does need to be rethought; particularly on more egalitarian grounds. The global and local north/ south divide is intolerable, as is the first/third-world inequality and the increasingly yawning gap between rich and poor.”

The idea of flux as the only constant in human affairs goes back to another Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, and since his day the global economy has never been in anything other than a state of flux, though the intensity of it may vary. It requires a readiness to rethink all the time, but for the same reason it is probably incompatible with any particular end-state, whether “equality” or “socialism”.

Capitalism, on the other hand, relies on rethinks. The system performs many functions, one of which is to convey information. For one good there is a shortage (price goes up, so produce more of it), for another good there is a surplus (price goes down, so stop producing it). Those who adapt quickest do best.

The problem is then that equality, let alone socialism, go out the window. But we have seen answers to global inequality (if none to the failure of socialism) that must heavily modify Jim’s gloomy picture of everything in today’s world getting worse.

In the 20th century, Indians and Chinese, nations now of more than a billion people each, were still dying of starvation. In the 21st century, having taken to capitalism, they advance by leaps and bounds, while over-regulated Europeans are the ones who have entered on economic decadence.

Even in our own continent, though, there are small countries, most of them in eastern Europe and newly independent, which through a capitalist revolution have found the keys to soaring prosperity. Time for Scotland to join them. I think this will become an independent nation not while we are all telling one another how poor we are but only once we start telling one another how rich we are.