INTERESTING to see someone, close up, change their relationship to the future. I was in the audience at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) earlier this week, when Nicola Sturgeon made her last London speech as First Minister.

With her usual downbeat phrasing, Nicola described the spur for her leaving as a “mid-life assessment”. And, while stating her perennial concerns – climate justice, women’s progress, opportunitiesfor youth – she seemed genuinely open about any future role: “watch this space”.

Of course it’s luxurious, in a way, to be able to make such a shift. Though, true to form, Sturgeon’s ethical agenda still seems to be about empowering others to be able to seize their own conditions of existence. The relevant selves in “self-determination” are expanding beyond just “Scots that are able to vote”.

But a genuine opportunity for deep growth seems to be available for her. Fully admitting to her “introvert nature”, Sturgeon looked as if the full body armour of her political role was ready to be loosened if not fully discarded – at least, as far as the daily blow-by-blow of party-political affairs is concerned.

For the rest of her remaining puff, who and what is she to be?

Not that she’s ever short for book recommendations, but I would certainly suggest that our soon-to-be former FM gets her hands on this one, out next week.

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It’s titled The Long View: Why We Need To Transform How The World Sees Time, by BBC Future’s For fRichard Fisher.

Too heavy? I appreciate that (as she puts it) “having some fun”, after nearly 40 years of being lashed to the front of the Good Ship Indy, is a reasonable demand. But Nicola’s admirers will admit that they’d eventually want her talents to be engaged at a global and historic level. Fisher’s book suggests an underlying idea that might guide all of her – indeed our – endeavours.

We all think that we have a “worldview” – a framework for understanding events, our sense of what is true, good and beautiful.

But what if we also all have a “timeview”, asks Fisher: “A way of thinking about our place within the past, present and future that defines our priorities and decisions”?

Fisher notes that, in the last decade or so, psychologists and neuroscience have given a pretty poor account of humans’ ability to think in the long term. We have a “bias towards the present” – meaning we focus on what’s immediately attractive, to the detriment of our finances, our happiness and our ailments.

Studies show that, if all that matters is “next quarter’s profit, winning the election or sating some other near-term desire”, says Fisher, we make wrong decisions for the future. The bits of psychology that account for this are called “availability heuristics” and “salience bias”.

These tendencies are what make us unwilling to give up a little now so that large improvements in climate outcomes can happen later. They explain why governments consistently “ignore the lessons of history and the future consequence of their policies”.

A cracker of a condition is called “shifting baseline syndrome”. Each generation gets used to its own reality – for example, there aren’t as many bees around – and therefore cannot “feel” the process of things worsening.

Fisher quotes from the behavioural scientist Dan Gilbert: “If invading aliens wanted to weaken humanity, they wouldn’t send ships. They would invent climate change”.

So how do we break out of these biases, this wired-in short-termism? We could reduce incentives to them, in the way we design our institutions.

Take the seemingly banal invention of quarterly reporting for US companies in the 1930s. This became a way for executives to justify their myopic and short-termist commitment to shareholder value.

Fisher is interested in “cultural and linguistic” influences on our “timeviews”. But I am surprised he doesn’t mention nationalism: it’s certainly one idea about “past, present and future” that can shape our decisions. As Anatol Lieven wrote a few years ago, we can stir up our concerns for climate by feeling connected, nationally, to the fates of our future generations.

FROM its start, The Scottish Parliament has taken the national view on the future with its own Scottish Futures Forum. But the more remarkable national-future exercise readers will know of is the Welsh government’s Future Generations Commissioner.

Its first commissioner, Sophie Howe, claimed earlier this month that 64% of the Senedd’s current policy programme comes from her Commission’s reports. This includes the recent cancellation of most Welsh government road-building programs, in favour of public transport investment.

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Interviewed on her departure from the post by The New Statesman, Howe spoke anxiously from her seven years of experience.

“Governments continue to just ignore things that are coming down the track at them. So you could talk about that in terms of climate emergency and – maybe ignore is too strong, but no government has got a real grip of the action that needs to be taken to deal with the scale of the problem, and there we are literally talking about, you know, existential threat to humanity.

So it’s totally scary ... the world is sleepwalking into disasters that could have been avoided”.

Globally lauded, the Welsh Future Generations Commission is also being emulated, with recent calls from the Carnegie UK charity for Scotland to duplicate the role. Its success is an example of the kind of “timeview” that Fisher’s hopes can push back against his array of cognitive weaknesses, our crooked timber of humanity.

I look forward to seeing whether Sturgeon can develop her own timeview on the interests she stated at the RSA. Part of the legacy she’s left behind, most evident in the SNP leadership debates, is the discourse around a “wellbeing economy” (admirably outlined in these pages the other day by Gordon MacIntyre-Kemp).

Wellbeing has become a somewhat charged signifier. It allows Humza Yousaf to signal to the left in Scotland: that, as Kemp put it, “quality of life, equality, fairness, sustainability, happiness and health are all outcomes that should be given equal weight to traditional measures such as GDP.” It’s also allowed Kate Forbes to gesture to the right, claiming her government will focus “more on wealth creation than the social spending and redistribution stressed” by Sturgeon.

Yet if we take the temporal view, we’d have to somehow fuse these perspectives together. If we want to increase tax receipts in Scotland to fund our current social provisions, it can’t be by means of a wealth creation that despoils prospects for future generations – which Forbes’s enthusiasm for oil and gas production is guaranteed to do.

On the other hand, there is much room to explore wealth creation if the opportunities targeted are “green industrial/informational” – the kind of efficient, zero-carbon enterprise/infrastructure that has been talked about since the advent of SNP governments in 2007.

We’ve had some failures here.

No matter who has the ambition to grow the Scottish tax base, the absence of any indigenous state/commercial bidder in the auction of ScotWind’s offshore licenses has been a terrible mistake.

For which each of the candidates, as collectively responsible politicians in the governments that allowed this to happen, share the blame.

As does Sturgeon.

When asked about advice to other leaders at the RSA, she caveated it by noting that she could hardly be seen as perfect in following it herself. I’m an admirer of Nicola, but I know the full reckoning on her premiership will be to come.

For the moment, I hope she applies herself to the question of the consideration of future generations, at a global level. She’s put in a shift (as they say in the West of Scotland).

But there are even bigger “shifts” coming, for which her composure, compassion and smarts are ideally fashioned for. It’s time, as the campaign posters once said.

Richard Fisher’s The Long View: Why We Need to Transform How The World Sees Time is out later this month, on Hachette