I WELCOMED Nicola Sturgeon to the stage of FutureFest in London this week, opening up the two day “Glastonbury of the Future” I have been lead-curating since 2013.

It was a blazing day, and Nicola was equally brilliant. She laid out a general case of “how governments can shape the future”, but drew on Scotland as a democratic laboratory.

She laid out the story of a parliament using its increasing powers to blaze trails in renewable energy, in new welfare, land and economic models, and leading the radical innovations of the future in info-, robo- and bio-science.

It was a vision of can-do small nationhood. Our solutions-hungry audience lapped it all up.

Yet I’m fully aware of the “bubble” charge here. And it certainly isn’t the case that our event is blithe about the wider challenges for modern societies (despite Scotland’s ambitions and achievements).

We know that many democracies seem to be running on faulty programmes. A free vote produces demagogues and authoritarian populists on both sides of the Atlantic. Our public services and welfare states aren’t buffering us against the shocks and upheavals of the age, but buckling badly under the strain.

Our increasingly poor mental health contributes to that, and in itself indicates a much deeper crisis in our systems – a hyper-flexible society that exhausts and distresses us. Our everyday lives are undermined by the fissures of terrorism – we never know when they will widen beneath our feet.

Even our distinctly human creative energy – our ingenuity and innovation – looks like it might turn against us. The march of automation, AI and gene editing either challenges the cognitive arrogance of humanity, or opens up our very biological natures to control – or some unpredictable combination of both.

Our control – or someone/something else’s? The last thing we have done in FutureFest this year is ignore the looming shadow of Trump and Brexit, never mind Erdogan and Urban. We have tried to address these anxieties at root, even philosophically.

In an overwhelming world of demanding choice and pervasive connection, to seek some “control” is a deeply human and familiar request.

To dream of “greatness”, when faced with an algorithmic reality which defines and measures us down to the last breath, and maybe even the last thought … This is also human, all too human.

Various projects of fear – and hope – are contending for our loyalty, in the spheres of politics and business. But I suggest the underlying popular suspicion is that our institutions, technologies, markets and democracies have been steadily slipping from the grasp of citizens – and that something has to change.

If this is our sense of crisis, then (as Rahm Emmanuel once said) we shouldn’t let it go to waste. The very act of people coming together, and allowing themselves the play-space to imagine different pathways into our future, is itself an act of self-empowerment.

We must fill the moment with brilliant, stirring alternatives – big-picture ones, personal ones and practical ones. Attractive innovations in behaviour, values and models, as well as transformative tech. That way we can show that we can occupy an uncertain future – for the better.

Faced with the current overlap of crises, this year’s FutureFest will crank up the feeling that many possible worlds lie before us – and that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

I was at pains in my curation to bring into the event an understanding of nationalism less phobic and alarmist than is (understandably) generated by the headlines.

In much political science, the assumption behind the term “nationalism” is that the qualities of the nation are the driving force of its ideology – just as the dynamism of capital propels “capitalism”, or the primacy of social relations fuels “socialism”.

The anthropologist Ernest Gellner understood nationalism as a functional phenomenon. It was a means whereby industrialising territories established a common language, clock-time and other useful standards. It justified investing in education and welfare systems, in order to strengthen the capacities and character of the “folk”.

Now, 19th and 20th century nationalism could fall into preposterous myths of racial superiority, and provide a logic for imperial exploitation and the subjugation of others.

But it could also – in, say, the Nordic countries – become a transformative spur for societal development in economy, culture, education and land ownership (as outlined in Tomas Bjorkman and Lene Rachel Anderson’s recent book The Nordic Secret).

What form of nationalism – with its “Janus” face, as Tom Nairn once called it, facing both forwards and backwards – is prevailing in the present moment? The Polish social psychologist Michal Bilewicz has made a useful distinction between “altruistic” and “narcissistic” forms of contemporary nationalism:

“Altruists acknowledge a chequered past, give thanks for today’s blessings and look forward to a better future – a straight line sloping up across time. Narcissists exalt in a glorious past, denigrate a miserable present and promise a magnificent future – a rollercoaster U-curve with today in its pit…

“If you need a rule of thumb for assessing a nationalist movement, ascending ramp versus switchback U is as good as you are likely to get.”

One might recognise the altruistic version in the small-nationalisms of Scotland and Wales, or the Catalonian independence movement, or even Macron’s forward motion for the French nation. These nationalisms are liberal and progressive; they are pro-EU or other transnational regimes, shouting ‘stop the world, we want to get on’.

Yet it would be fair to say the narcissistic form is currently dominant in mainland Europe. The administrations of Hungary, Poland, Russia and Turkey – and the anti-immigration contenders in many other countries – do indeed combine these elements.

That is: a glorious reading of their own history, and a vision of a present society overrun by malign, polluting and external forces. The narcissistic nationalisms previously mentioned indicate how this relationship can go badly wrong.

The Catalan sociologist Manuel Castells once saw the interdependence of what he called “the Net and the Self”. Our networked, mobile and global existence is so demanding that it produces a need for a collective anchor in the storm. We may require a more slow-moving resource of culture and history – which might be drawn out of some formulation of nationhood.

That’s one use of nationality – but the problem of getting the measure of our ever-more-powerful machines is pervasive. If technology seems like a dehumanizing threat, how can we reassert our human distinctiveness – or perhaps expand our humanity to embrace the machines that we have, after all, invented?

If our cultural lives seem like vast exercises in escapism from our problems, how could we use those simulations to re-engage with our challenges? Could computer games, virtual or augmented reality also rehearse new forms of identity and being, that might cope better with an accelerating world?

These are the kinds of arguments that rage across the salons of London, and one of the reasons to love (and be infuriated by) this maximum city. But in the midst of my metropolitan gig, it was a real pleasure to see Nicola command attention from an audience of the sharpest creatives and most urbane chin-strokers.

Who know what lies ahead in Scotland’s future? But you should know this, at least: in London, the future-minded love Scotland.

You can watch the full speech by clicking here