WHEN I was a lass I served a term at the Mary Erskine School for girls in Edinburgh.

As well as the debate on exactly which educational establishment provided the true inspiration for Hogwarts, there has been a lively discourse as to whether the magnificent Marcia Blane’s girls school in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, was based on Mary Erskine’s although the author, Muriel Spark, herself attended the co-educational James Gillespie’s.

I can report that the real life history lessons at Mary Erskine were not as risque or exciting as those delivered on screen by Maggie Smith to the crème de la crème, although we girls did have a rather rude nickname for our school, which is perhaps better left to the imagination.

At any rate, the history we were dutifully taught at Mary Erskine was post-imperial with virtually nothing about Scotland or indeed about the sub-continent, except through the exploits of the East India Company. It was white history, European but through a British lens.

What I do remember, is studying interminable wars which as we were taught were invariably started by someone becoming the “sick man of Europe” and other countries lining up to fight over the spoils. Incongruously this was sometimes the Ottoman Empire although, more appropriately in terms of geography, it was often some hapless Hapsburg dying in his sickbed with the vultures gathering.

READ MORE: Home Office Rwanda flight GROUNDED – as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon issues warning

That phrase, “the sick man of Europe”, came to mind once again when I saw Alex Salmond on the BBC at the weekend discussing the release of the latest OECD economic forecasts. These laid bare the new-found position of the UK as the sick economy of Europe. Of the entire G20 only sanction-hit, war-torn Russia, is expected to do economically worse in the next year.

The growth expectation for the UK in 2023 is zero, zilch, a big round nothing, not a sausage, nil points. Beyond the bald economic statistics, what that means is that, instead of sharing the benefits of a growing economy, there will be a distribution of the pain of a stagnant one. And the extreme inequity which that lamentable performance will most certainly aggravate will be felt by real people having further diminished lives.

The causes of this disaster are not difficult to identify. The OECD is not just comparing the UK with the thrusting economies of the Asia-Pacific. The comparisons are with the much-derided slow-growing economies of the European Union. Britain has Brexited, driven by English exceptionalism, and what it has produced is an exceptional slump in trade and investment.

Far from becoming the “Singapore of the mid-Atlantic”, Britannia is now sinking under the waves, holed below the waterline. The whole thing has indeed been the “Titanic success” that Boris Johnson once forecast. Many a true word is spoken by a jester, albeit inadvertently.

There are two approaches that Scotland can take to the coming catastrophe. We can crank up the bilge pumps and seek to ameliorate a gross iniquity here, a cut in benefits there, anything to keep the boat afloat. This is more or less the position of the Scottish Government’s medium-term spending plans published last week.

These amount to following austerity Britain, tempered by an increase in Scottish child payments. However, the “reset” (the Scottish Government’s own term) required for the public sector in order to make this budget balance, has produced eye-watering reductions in real spending on crucial services.

Austerity Scotland, as forecast by the SNP, will make more than the pips squeak. Take education for example. It was once the untouchable prime public service and the template against which the First Minister asked herself to be judged. Now it is staring down the barrel of an 8% revenue cut in real terms over the forecast period.

If the Educational Institute for Scotland was not already in uproar over pay, then it should be in revolt over this dismal prospect.

The alternative future is to abandon the bad ship Britannia and board the Scottish lifeboat.

The National: National Extra Scottish politics newsletter banner

In a world where natural resources are king, our country has 8% of the population of the UK but one-third of the resources. Far from being bottom of the league of the G20, Scotland has the two key comparative advantages which are the makings of a world top-10 economy – cheap, abundant energy and talented, educated people.

In that genteel world of Mary Erskine’s just a generation ago, any thought of something as uncouth as Scottish independence seemed a world apart – even if the august school was founded when Scotland was an independent country.

But Mary Erskine did teach us girls one vital characteristic summed up in our school motto Mitis et Fortis. Behind the gentle exterior, they taught the importance of strength and resolve.

And it is exactly that strength of purpose that Scotland now requires, because if we don’t find it, then we shall sink.