I CAN’T see anything of interest to write about the SNP conference, so I’m going to turn back to what I considered the letter of the week published last Friday. David Cairns of Finavon sent in his interesting thoughts about how, on independence, Scotland could “break free from the chains of Westminster capitalism and avoid the black hole of Corbynista Marxist ideology that seeks to appropriate wealth rather than create it.”

The key problem this line of argument seeks to solve is that “UK competitiveness has declined while Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark have all surged to the top of major global competitiveness rankings.”

It is certainly a shame that the party members gathered in Glasgow will have no chance to talk about the biggest challenge the nation will one day face – how to make best use at long last of the economic freedom it has been denied for more than three centuries. Even when not shadow boxing by the banks of the River Clyde, the Scottish Government shows little taste for any fundamental debate. It confines itself to the politics of the pork-barrel, or at best merely hints at measures it might or might not one day take (tax rises, citizen’s income). Yet a time must come when it will have to choose.

I agree with David Cairns’s assessment of the true nature of Corbynism but, trashy as this is, it is also attracting support in a UK where most other political expedients seem to have been exhausted. All the same, I stand astonished at how feeble the Old Labour throwback is. Nationalise the Royal Mail? Not exactly storming the Winter Palace, is it? The whole programme of nationalisation extends no further than the services or utilities of water, railways and energy supply. Even under Harold Wilson, nowadays regarded as a Prime Minister who sold out his socialism, the public ownership of productive industry, steel and shipbuilding, was carried through or prepared. His mentor Clement Attlee, in the first post-war government of 1945, really did use nationalisation to control the commanding heights of the British economy, and a fine old mess he made of it too. With far less ambition, Corbyn is likely to bring the same result: high ideals but in practical achievement very little.

The reason is again pinpointed by David Cairns. Corbyn shows no interest in the creation of wealth, and I would guess probably thinks it is a bad thing anyway (there again, I sometimes suspect the Scottish Government of the same folly).

That is why he resists any suggestion of reversing Brexit, because he regards the EU as an agency for imposing capitalism on the masses (if only!). But Brexit Britain is a country above all needing to revive its investment and production, with an essential impetus from all those trading agreements with third countries that we are promised. Corbyn’s UK might instead only fulfil his ideal of a European Cuba, where equality is attained through common poverty.

On the other hand, I must agree with David Cairns that “Westminster capitalism” has not exactly been covering itself in glory either. Much of the UK’s manufacturing capacity has melted away, leaving an economy driven by the service industries, above all by the City of London.

The trouble is that, while manufacturing companies can and do go bust, financial institutions have in many instances become “too big to fail”. A crisis of capitalism which, after 10 years, is not yet over makes the UK Government their prisoners rather than the other way round. They have successfully resisted calls for them to separate retail from investment business, so that small savers still face the risk of losing their entire nest-eggs in a rerun of 2008. Meanwhile bankers claim their bonuses, but some banks remain incapable of returning to profit.

Given this broken model of British capitalism, and the tokenism of Corbyn’s Labour party, it is high time we took a look at alternatives – such as the social market model of the northern European nations.

All six of those mentioned by David Cairns – Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark – are richer, in terms of gross domestic product per head, than the UK. Since their rates of economic growth are higher than the UK’s, they are going to stay that way.

The Scottish Government affects to believe that sustainability and inclusiveness are far more important than anything so materialistic as household incomes.

I don’t think this argument is going to get us far at the next independence referendum, but in any case you just need to look at consistently growing economies to see how much more contented and harmonious this makes them in the long run.

I’M going to concentrate on Germany because that’s the one among the six nations I know best, having lived there for three years of my life. It is, of course, among the world’s industrial leaders, producing goods that are sought after and sold everywhere. Its trade is in surplus, its budget in balance. Its politics are stable, its business booming. But the benefits are not confined to the ruling elites. The German worker gets comprehensive social cover for health, long-term care, pension, unemployment, accidents at work and child support, all funded by joint contributions from employer and employee. The pay-outs are by UK standards generous: up to an annual maximum of €69,000 (€58,000 in the former East Germany) for both pensions and jobless benefits, according to previous earnings; these top figures equate to £62,000 and £52,000. They would have been even more generous without a major reform of the system in 2010, in response to demographic changes forcing a smaller working population to pay for a rising number of dependants. The Germans looked ahead and adapted, in a general agreement among government and opposition, capital and labour.

But the success in running the system also requires rather conformist attitudes from everybody who belongs to it. I think German conditions in factory or office would surprise any Scot who might be suddenly whisked away and set down in the middle of them. The workplace is run, generally in harmony, by the management and the trades unions together. The employees are expected to turn up on the dot, as a rule at 8am, and coming late is unforgivable. They graft steadily till they go home. Private conversations are rather frowned on, and using a mobile while on duty is not allowed: time spent on the job is the employer’s, not the employee’s. People earn the same wage year after year, and get a rise only if they are moved to a higher grade. The idea of staging a strike for an all-round increase, unless justified by some proven increase in productivity, would seem to Germans bizarre, indeed counterproductive. And the federal government does not mount rescues of flagging outfits. All this is what being competitive means for everyday life.

So German economic success is not just a matter of policy, but also of culture. While I believe independence is the only way for Scotland to achieve anything like the same, independence by itself will not be enough.

We will need cultural changes too. These may be easier to bring about in a small and homogeneous nation, but it would be idle to pretend they will always be easy.

For instance, we look back on a long history of antagonism between boss and worker, which can readily translate into a more general antagonism of middle class and working class, stuff I often read about in The National. I cannot believe this will ever be the basis of a successful independent nation, especially not when I recall the ideal of social harmony that prevails in Germany, and for that matter in the other prosperous Nordic countries too.

Perhaps the seething resentments over here are just a pose of armchair socialists, which in any case the rest of us would need to forget when we set seriously about the business of independence. But I’m not sure.