THIS newspaper is broadly supportive of the SNP government. I’m happy with that. After all, the entire commercial media apart from The National is actively hostile to both independence and our elected Holyrood administration.

I tend to shun the supermarket newspaper shelves, as they are laden with tabloids owned by foreign billionaires which happily invent headline stories about how bad the FM and the SNP government are. Meanwhile, the BBC connives in this political propaganda every time it does a “what the papers say” slot.

That said, it is imperative that those of us who are supporters of independence are prepared to tell Nicola and her team when we think they are getting it wrong. And they are getting it wrong as far as current economic policy is concerned.

What is worse, despite the SNP’s dominant electoral position since 2007, is that political success is not guaranteed forever – especially as we enter the worst economic storm of the past half-century. Sadly, Scotland is not yet independent. We lack the political levers we need to protect our people. As a result, we cannot pretend this economic crisis will not damage support for independence.

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I know the latest opinion poll puts support for indy back at 50%. But caution also suggests we pay heed to the recent volatility of the Yes vote. Such volatility implies that the electorate – especially swing voters – are looking for re-assurance that independence will make their lives better.

But two pronouncements from SNP ministers last week gave me cause to think that the Scottish Government is about to let these swing voters down. Or at least confuse them economically. Let’s start with my old mate Richard Lochhead, who has the just transition, employment and fair work ministerial brief. I know Richard is a bright chap who thinks before he speaks. But last week he made political waves by suggesting that workers “look at whether the country can afford” pay demands that match inflation.

With prices rising at 10% per annum, anything less is a pay cut. Essentially, Richard was advising employees to “be sensible” and accept getting poorer. That advice will not win votes.

Richard Lochhead is no Tory. But Richard’s concept of “fair work” seems to involve workers accepting a real-wage cut now in the hope that the SNP secure an independence referendum next year.

But even assuming there is a referendum, and that the ensuing transfer of power is rapid, is Richard promising that an indy Scotland will control prices and grant wage increases that protect living standards? Because if he is not offering some alternative vision to the present economic model, why would swing voters opt for independence?

Reading between the lines, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that Richard is appealing to public-sector workers to moderate wage claims in order not to embarrass the SNP government – now and after independence.

Certainly, he was appealing to rail workers. But last week’s Scottish financial statement clearly promises deep cuts to local authority budgets. The major element in council spending is wages. The only way to square this financial circle is for councils to cut staff in order to provide even minimal pay rises.

Are staffing reductions and real-pay cuts – for teachers, refuse workers, firefighters, health inspectors and social workers – the best launching pad for an independence referendum in 2023?

I sincerely doubt it.

The SNP are stuck with a Faustian bargain. They are running the Scottish Government while hampered by UK Treasury funding rules. The FM wants to convince swing voters that everything is safe in SNP hands and will be even safer after we ditch Boris and Co for independence.

But the cost of living crisis has intervened. The imminent danger is that the SNP administration will be forced/tempted to do the Treasury’s dirty work by imposing real wage and job cuts to “balance the books”.

Instead, the national movement should be mobilising to oppose Tory cuts root and branch. Otherwise, it will not be long before the SNP is outflanked on the left by a resurgent Scottish Labour Party.

The second major economic intervention last week came from Kate Forbes, the SNP Finance Secretary and likely replacement for Nicola Sturgeon should the latter retire. Kate announced to great fanfare in the Tory media that Scotland needs to “reset” how it delivers public services and become “more efficient”.

With the greatest of respect to Kate, this is simply code for spending cuts and job reductions. If I’m wrong, then she has to spell out what she means rather than using

Delphic phrases such as “reset” the public sector.

As it happens, I’m not against making public-sector delivery more efficient. But I also want better public services, not just cheaper ones. I refuse to use the word “efficiency” as code for more cuts. How do we achieve real efficiency?

First, Kate Forbes was misleading us by suggesting the Scottish state lacks borrowing powers and so must make cuts. The local authorities have significant borrowing powers, even if Holyrood does not. It’s just that the SNP Government keeps squeezing council revenue streams by cutting grants or freezing the right to raise council tax.

Councils can’t borrow if their future income is uncertain. The solution is to introduce a local income, which was previously SNP policy. This would shift responsibility for funding council services on to the local authorities themselves. That way they can use their borrowing powers to fund the transition, pay decent wages and maintain quality services.

Second, we need to introduce a system of national sectoral wage bargaining with the Scottish Government leading. Richard Lochhead’s attempt to pretend the SNP Government was not really party to the railway pay negotiations fooled nobody.

Annual tripartite wage bargaining (between government, unions, employers) across all sectors of the economy means no-one is left behind in the income stakes. It forces unions and employers to react to genuine national priorities. But it would also force Holyrood to offer increases in the social wage – pensions, housing priorities, welfare benefits – if take-home pay is moderated.

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One key element of the negotiated social wage would be to allocate an agreed proportion of annual industry profits to be paid (in newly minted shares) into a national pension fund.

Thus, in some years, limited money wage increases could be balanced against a bigger contribution to the national pension fund. Ultimately, the national pension fund will own most of the economy and so profits would be socialised into a common good fund. Lesson: you can’t call on workers to moderate pay demands unless you offer something concrete in return. That is what Richard Lochhead and Kate Forbes fail to understand.

There’s another gain from national sectoral wage agreements. They are actually anti-inflationary in the long run. Every firm has to pay the same wage increase. Less efficient firms are forced to invest in technology, or they go bust.

This creates an automatic pressure to raise productivity and lower unit costs. We can start this economic revolution under present, devolved rules. To complete the job will require independence. But at least we would have a national wage strategy – not hopeless platitudes and crossed fingers.