WE need to thank our lucky stars for the Fraser of Allander Institute, launched in 1975 with the late Jim McGilvray and David Simpson at the helm, the latter thankfully still with us and going strong.

Over the years the institute has steadily widened its purview and raised beyond measure our understanding of the Scottish economy. Nowadays it publishes not only authoritative quarterly bulletins but also a blog, where we can sometimes read more irreverent opinions. It’s a good thing for the authors of the individual items that they are not identified.

That deals with one of the institute’s problems, how politicians have sought to absorb it into their power structures so it will then only say things they want to hear. Over the two decades of devolved Scotland, the tendency has if anything intensified rather than abated.

The present director of the institute is Graeme Roy, who in his previous job was actually chief economic adviser to the Scottish government. He swapped positions because, as he has heavily hinted, nobody in the government would listen to him. Now there’s a big surprise.

The National: Graeme Roy left his job as chief policy adviser to the First Minister to lead the Fraser of Allander InstituteGraeme Roy left his job as chief policy adviser to the First Minister to lead the Fraser of Allander Institute

I’ll say no more about the history but turn to the institute’s latest blog, published last week. On the surface it deals with the possibility of a new independence referendum in 2020. Of course we know this is a complete fantasy because the UK Government will never agree to it, and has said so repeatedly.

Undemocratic it may be, but we have no way of making Boris Johnson change his mind. Still, an incessant chorus in favour of indyref2 will keep up the SNP marchers’ spirits and perhaps lay the foundation for an absolute majority at the Scottish election of 2021.

READ MORE: Michael Fry's predictions for the advances of the coming decade

Fraser of Allander uses this scenario as the peg on which to hang analysis of some issues bound to arise in the campaigns we face, with no less force than they figured in the referendum of 2014 or the election of 2016.

I’m going to leave aside here the question of the future Scottish currency, not because I think it unimportant – on the contrary. But I have written about it before, and basically I agree with Andrew Wilson and the Sustainable Growth Commission: helped by the right policy choices this is a problem we can solve, and is not in itself an argument against Scottish independence.

Instead I’m going to concentrate on something that will affect every citizen of the new Scotland much more closely, the question of the public finances, and whether these will be affected by independence for the better or the worse. Again, this is not an easy question, and one that has been blurred rather than clarified by some recent debates. The Fraser blog gives them short shrift: “All sorts of wacky theories have developed around the provenance, quality and impartiality of the Scottish Government’s own figures for Scotland’s fiscal position.”

The reference there is to the GERS figures, which feed the Unionist claims that Scotland simply could not afford independence. The Fraser blog provides the obvious answer, that these figures can only mark a starting point, as the product of so many lousy UK spending choices over the years. They cannot, in fact or in logic, chart the country’s long-term fiscal position once it is able to make its own policy choices.

These will be more beneficial for us because they will reflect our economic interests rather than the interests of the south-east of England, the main motivator of UK policy choices up to now.

The blog sets out the actual position clearly. I’m not sure this is accurately reflected in the Scottish Government’s present state of mind.

Its own narrative is that it is still combatting the austerity imposed from London, and it has managed to put over this view to Scotland at large. At least, the same message is echoed in all the outlets of public opinion that are visible to me, from speeches at Holyrood to letters to The National.

READ MORE: Fry’s latest attack on the FM and SNP takes the biscuit

But I don’t see they can all be talking about the same thing. Chancellor George Osborne pursued austerity when he set out to cut the net government deficit from the 10 per cent of gross domestic product he inherited in 2010. By the time of Philip Hammond it had been reduced to less than 3%, and he duly proclaimed an end to austerity – which to his mind meant he was going to spend money to counter the damage done by Brexit.

The National: Philip Hammond saw the deficit drop to less than 3%Philip Hammond saw the deficit drop to less than 3%

Since Boris Johnson came to power, the reversal of the policies of 2010 has gone much further than that. He is planning to spend £100 billion over the next five years on infrastructure projects. The Treasury will rewrite its spending rules to tilt public investment away from the south-east of England to the “northern powerhouse”. And the binning of EU rules about state aid will allow government to help ailing companies. If this is still austerity, it is a different sort of austerity from what we had before.

I accept Boris is a proven liar, and none of this might come to pass. I do wonder, though, how he would then account for the unspent millions to all those Labour constituencies he won at the election. The real expectation is he will shell out what he can get away with, international money markets permitting: he is not, after all, any kind of fiscal ideologue.

In this case, surely the narrative of Tory austerity breaks down.

Nicola Sturgeon will need another kind of narrative if she is to persuade Scots to vote SNP, especially those who have not always voted SNP before, the ones she needs most.

The trouble is, to return from the UK situation to Scotland, that an alternative narrative is by no means clear or convincing, even in this year we are being told could be decisive for national independence. The Fraser blog, with more confidence than I can muster, reckons 2020 will see Scottish ministers “working to set out a plan – taking the GERS numbers as a starting point – based upon cutting back on certain UK-wide spending programmes, significant fiscal restraint and the holy grail of promoting growth”.

READ MORE: Scotland can rely on its natural qualities to thrive post-independence

OK, ministers will plan for the independent nation to get rid of Trident, to qualify for early re-entry to the EU, to correct other failings of the system we still live under. But “promote growth”? If that is really true, the Scottish Government is remarkably coy about saying so.

In fact it has been saying the opposite. To promote growth by all the means that have become available during 80 years of demand management is an obvious way to end austerity for good and all. But they were not what Nicola Sturgeon had in mind in a speech she gave in Edinburgh last summer. She said instead we should abandon the conventional measures of gross domestic product to concentrate on “wellness”. This is one of the “wacky theories”: we have no measure of wellness, so we could not know if it had improved or not. We would need to rely on, ahem, what the Scottish Government’s spin-doctors tell us.

With redoubled fervour, we should thank our lucky stars that the Fraser of Allander Institute will be there to put us right.