In Holyrood, and in Scottish politics generally, all weeks are crucial these days, but some seem to be more crucial than most. This was one of those weeks.
Dominated by the run up to the SNP conference, this week has seen interesting, and crucial, positioning on the future path for Scotland’s economy.
For the SNP, the publication of the Growth Commission report was eagerly awaited before its launch at the end of last week. Led by the highly capable Andrew Wilson, it promised (and delivered) a fresh look at the prospectus for independence at the very time when developments on Brexit were giving cause for thought that, perhaps despite her intuition, Nicola Sturgeon might just be keeping options open on a further drive towards a referendum in the near to medium term.
The signs were there very early on that the publication of the report would be something of a challenge for the SNP leadership to manage politically - within the party and outside it. On the morning of the launch, no frontline figures being available for interview gave the unusual impression of a party press machine slightly unsure of how to proceed. On such a significant day, you would have expected a more prominent figure than Alex Neil to lead the media assault, and that expectation is no reflection on the former minister’s competence or profile. It was not unreasonable to expect this one to be led from the front.
The passing of the weekend and the progress of this week has added further to that sense of uncertainty over SNP handling of the Report. You would have thought that when the launch date was chosen to be one week before the party’s conference this weekend, that date was pretty picked for a reason. Picked to allow the media spotlight to be shone on Wilson’s work and for the conference to consider and endorse it and build a sense of growing confidence and unity around that new prospectus.
In reality? Not so much.
The cautious and responsible tones in which the report sets out the case for a vibrant independent Scottish economy have been welcome by some with enthusiasm, and by others in the nationalist movement with equivocation bordering on hostility. The conference this weekend will not have a formal opportunity to debate the report and endorse it.
Whilst some glibly point out that the conference agenda was decided upon before the report was published, it seems to me that there is a wider lack of sure footedness on the issue that is, after all, the reason for the SNP to exist.
Whilst every MSP in Holyrood on the government backbenches has spent most of this week chewing over the report and its consequences for nationalist strategy, at front bench level there has been radio silence, and that has the potential to mark out this as being a very significant week indeed.
The lack of strategy that has been clear this week will need to be ended by the FM’s speech in Glasgow. She will surely now be looking at polling results showing that the SNP are in danger of falling between two positions - frankly, the First Minister needs to down play or talk up the Growth Report and its independence prospectus, she needs to down-play or talk up the prospect of independence. This week has shown that doing neither one nor the other is unlikely to wash in the long term.
The other major intervention this week that has the potential to change our political debate in Scotland, came from David Skilling, the renowned international expert and adviser on the economics of small nations across the globe. In his contribution to the debate hosted by Reform Scotland on Thursday, he set out an ambitious prospectus on the potential success that may lie in wait for Scotland’s economy.
The power of his contribution was in his independence. In the Scottish political bubble, you quickly realise that everyone has an agenda - everyone has a line to take that precludes seeing merit in other opinions that clash with yours. It’s one of the increasingly depressing aspects of our political landscape - the inability to agree with opponents, or see weaknesses in our own arguments. Skilling knocked that weakness for six.
He has little to gain or lose through advancing the argument for one side or the other, instead he’s able to speak honestly as an outsider. That’s why his contribution was so compelling when he set out a case for Scotland’s economy being a long term success story, but only when we have learned to manage our deficit addiction. His call for more realism in economic policy-making will chime well with Andrew Wilson, given the nature of his report and its key conclusions.
The challenge, however, is to see that academic argument, make its way into the political mainstream. The Growth Commission’s report being marginalised this week reflects that we have much to do to have that grown up debate.
Meantime, we can wait, and hope.
Peter Duncan is Director of Message Matters, the strategic communications agency.