It has been a notable feature of the three and a half months since the elections for the Scottish Parliament how its First Minister has played a shrewd hand with the less than wonderful cards dealt to him. Thus far he has yet to be seen to put much of a foot wrong as he has directed his party towards the goal of Independence which he and they, but not a majority of the Scottish people, so crave. Personable and unremittingly cheerful in the face of the adversity of having a government which can only proceed with the ‘by your leave’ of the other three main parties, he has managed the significant feat of producing at the end of the first one hundred days of his government a major White Paper which seeks to lay the groundwork for the dismemberment of the Union.

Meanwhile the principal opponent on the field of play, the humiliated and demoralised Labour Party has found it difficult to come to terms with the scale of its defeat. Though only holding one less seat than the SNP, its moral defeat has been of seismic proportions and this has shown with the party’s apparent inability to realise that, for the first time in fifty years, it is no longer Cock O’The North. So long has it believed that it had a divine right just to turn up and win that the Labour Party in Scotland has found the experience of having to seem fresh and interesting one that is quite beyond it. In short, it is suffering from a bad attack of dinosauritis: if it looks like a dinosaur, smells like a dinosaur and sounds like a dinosaur, then it almost certainly is a dinosaur.

Yet into this rosy scenario creeps just a moment of doubt in the report of a leading expert in public spending, Professor Arthur Midwinter, who told a summer school in Stirling that that the Nationalist Executive had underestimated spending commitments and had over- estimated efficiency savings. Professor Midwinter said SNP plans to make £3.2 billion in savings and efficiencies, moving £1.9 billion to frontline services and leaving £1.3 billion for tax cuts was “wholly unrealistic”.

“The SNP’s budget plans are slowly unravelling, as the lack of financial rigour in its manifesto becomes problematic in practice.

“During the election, I described Labour’s approach to budget management as ‘muddling through’.

“To date, the SNP minority administration has not advanced to that stage, for until it revises its bogus financial arithmetic, it will have difficulty balancing the books.”

One notable feature of the SNP’s first taste of power has been its willingness to promise or to confirm this or that sweetener without making it entirely clear how the promise was to be funded.

If the good Professor is right, then something will have to give, sooner rather than later. The problem for Alex Salmond is that, unlike a Labour Leader who would merely have to snap his or her fingers and Gordon Brown would get the chequebook out, he cannot come running to London to bail him out. Were he to do so Gordon Brown would toss him out on his ear.

So, the unpalatable may soon have to be faced: cuts in public spending to make the books balance or raising the rate of tax in Scotland, both of them unpalatable.

But perhaps such a crisis is just what Alex Salmond wants so that he can dutifully trot out the line: “Of course, if Scotland was Independent, this would not have happened……”

Whatever the truth of it, getting the sums right is a sine qua non of good government and if the SNP has made a mess of the maths, they will quickly be found out and then discover that all they touch does not necessarily turn to gold.

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