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 Another budget at Holyrood and another bout of shadow boxing between Labour and the SNP.

“This is a budget for jobs and growth” declares John Swinney. “No, it’s not!” “Oh, yes it is!”

John Swinney wrings his hands. Labour accuses him of crocodile tears, or worse – being in tandem with the Tories.

Can there be a more terrible accusation in Scotland today than to be accused of being in cahoots with the Tories?

In the entire ruckus about what was in the budget there was not a mention about what was by far the biggest feature. In fact, there was barely any mention by these two parties of the two ‘D’ words that are by far the biggest influence on government spending today.

The two ‘D’ words are Deficit and Debt.

Not only did they shape the Scottish budget last week but they will also have the greatest influence on Scottish budgets for the foreseeable future.

It’s astonishing how a finance minister can get through a budget presentation in today’s straitened circumstances without mentioning the words that have virtually every Western economy in thrall.

Perhaps it’s because Scotland is one of the few countries in the world that does not have a deficit problem.

Perhaps it’s the prospect of gushing North Sea oil revenues in the event of independence that means we don’t really have a problem.

Buy some alarm clocks. It doesn’t matter whether we vote for independence in the forthcoming referendum or the status quo. Scotland will still be responsible for its share of UK debt.

In August the Public Sector Net Borrowing Requirement – the amount by which the debt figure rises every month – edged up to £14.41 billion from £14.37 billion a year earlier. So pessimistic are the forecasters about bringing this growth under control, the figure was hailed as a good result!

The £14 billion is duly added to the total of debt outstanding. And that figure is now more than £1 trillion.

Now you might say that the deficit and debt are abstractions, just a means of keeping statistical score. 

But debt interest is very real. It’s the chunk swiped off the government’s kitty every year before the politicians get to spend anything.

It is in all respects a huge public spending cut – although it is of course the borrowing cost of previous public spending we haven’t yet paid for.

This year Scotland’s share of UK debt interest calculated on a population share basis is not far short of £4.5 billion.

Imagine how many schools you could build with that – or which ambitious infrastructure project could become a reality instead of a pipedream.

This is why Mr Swinney doesn’t have as much money as he would wish. An extra £4.5 billion a year would certainly solve a lot of his problems.

 Instead the blame is placed on the meanness of “the London-based parties” - as if it was someone else’s debt, or that we hadn’t benefited from the money that was spent.

I do believe that were the debt and debt interest figure published every year with the budget there would be far greater public questioning of deficit finance, of how the debt had been incurred and by how much the budget might pay the outstanding debt down.

Now no-one expects the government to carve £4.5 billion out of the budget. It is the amount by which Scotland’s share of the UK budget calculated by reference to the Barnett formula is reduced.

Whether we opt for independence or stock with the status quo this obligation must be met. We could of course have 90 per cent of those gushing oil revenues on independence. But we will have other commitments to look after. And we will still have a debt legacy to deal with.

 Living within our means – with a modicum of borrowing that does not drive us into crisis and choke the economy to death – is a winning ambition. It is the greatest check on political bribery – and our own insatiable appetite. Without today’s debt burden, how much happier we would be.

Debt reduction is a political plus, not a minus.