THIS column is going to take a break over the holidays, so now must be the time for me to write my review of the year. I guess many readers will share my opinion that 2017 has not been all that good for Scotland. Counting both Scottish and UK elections, I have marked the last seven of my ballot papers with an X for the SNP, and I was sorry to see it fall away at Westminster after losing its majority at Holyrood too. Yet I was sorrier still at how it sought to deal with these setbacks.

Hard though it may be to remember sometimes, the SNP is not a class-based party as the Labour party is explicitly and the Tory party is in its deeds if not in its stated principles (which are often difficult to discern anyway). The SNP’s constitution sets out only two aims, Scottish independence and meanwhile “the furtherance of all Scottish interests”. We have a capitalist economy, with private ownership as the norm in industry, commerce and agriculture. Logically, then, this private ownership must be one of those Scottish interests the SNP has bound itself to further.

I would have said the SNP did make a reasonable fist of doing that in its first seven years of power. While it worked on a social democratic agenda, it offered sweeteners to the private sector as well: a cap on business rates, a commitment to cut corporation tax as soon as Scotland acquired the power to do so. But since the present Government took over it has moved to the left, especially by seeking to abandon fiscal restraint. Of course the existing devolutionary settlement in any event curbs its urge to tax-and-spend. But, in the budget last week, it struck away from the rest of the UK and raised taxes by a net £164 million.

All governments raise taxes from time to time, and I would never advocate robbing them of the power to do so. This was besides a modest increase by any standards. But it elevated more progressive taxation into a principle of Scottish government, with the purpose of redistribution. If the Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, had simply sought revenue instead, then he should rather have made a start on flattening tax, because this makes people more willing to pay.

By contrast, fiscal redistribution has never brought about much permanent progress towards equality. It prompts evasion and at length makes tax cuts popular once again, as Mackay himself acknowledged: hence his caution. We can learn a lot from the modern history of taxation in the UK by reflecting that it embarked on a redistributive policy in 1945 yet created a society which, while vastly richer, is still after 72 budgets scarcely more equal today than it was then.

So long as we have a democracy, electoral vagaries will always make progress erratic. If one course of action, however attractive in principle, proves to be a liability at the ballot box, it will be abandoned (except perhaps in stubborn Scotland). The SNP’s heaviest losses in 2017 came in the north-east, bedrock of the party for the previous 30 years. It remains a conservative region despite the big changes it has seen in that time, turning it from one of least prosperous parts of the country to one of the most prosperous. Throughout, and indeed for much longer back, it has never shown any interest in voting Labour. The contenders for its seats were Tories and Liberals in the old days, Tories and SNP more recently. I would have thought the SNP might entertain high hopes of winning those lost seats back once the pendulum swings again. But, to my amazement, the lessons of defeat are being ignored.

Instead of trying to think how a conservative region can be regained, the loudest talk within the party is of deepening its socialism, so that it may strengthen its grip on the west of Scotland, which admittedly has been weakened too. Is “the furtherance of all Scottish interests” now mere lip–service? In that case independence will never come, because it will need some broad degree of support from every section of society.

These political failings are all of a piece with the SNP’s inability to formulate convincing economic, as opposed to fiscal, policy. The country’s problems are just not going to be solved unless we can raise our growth rate, which is miserable even by the UK’s abysmal standards, let alone European ones. The Scottish Government has at least started to mention growth, which is an improvement on neglecting the subject altogether. I suppose it needs to now that it has been told by its own panel of experts under Lady Susan Rice to expect next to no growth for five years ahead.

I long to see some results from the separate work of the Growth Commission set up under Andrew Wilson in September 2016, and originally expected to produce a report by the end of that year. We are still waiting, and I suspect this is due to the difficulty of getting anything in the least imaginative, in a capitalist sense, past Derek Mackay. But I’ll be happy if, at some point in 2018, I’m proved wrong.

Meanwhile the Government’s own contribution is to propose a Scottish National Investment Bank, as announced in the budget speech. Myself, I’m in two minds about this. On the one hand we have the problem of the catastrophic collapse 10 years ago of the domestic banking system, which had kept going against the odds for three centuries of Union but which has now in effect been absorbed into the English system. It had besides already lost the confidence of its customer base by such amiable practices as forcing bankruptcy on its own commercial borrowers in order to seize their assets. It will take a long time to rebuild the lost trust. So perhaps, in the interim, SNIB is the answer.

The prospectus is for “patient capital”, that is, for lending to projects that will not rely on quick returns yet pay off in the long run. I fear this may be a smokescreen for basically lousy ideas to be approved on something other than economic grounds, in other words for a further extension of our pork-barrel politics. But again, I’ll feel happy to be proved wrong.

A real break from the bad habits of the past can come not from the Scottish state, such as it is, but from the energy and commitment of go-ahead citizens that find their outlet in our small and medium enterprises — 99 per cent of the entire corporate sector, with 60 per cent of turnover and 40 per cent of employment.

All the great Scottish manufacturing companies of the past started off in this way, and no superior model has been found. It is a miracle the entrepreneurs continue to spring up and even to flourish under the heavy hand of Scottish officialdom, when emigration would be an easier way out (of course some do take this route so that their talents are lost to us).

Yet the SNP has come to believe the state is in principle omnipotent, so that for every problem and every project the basic requirement is to pass a law and set up a system of regulation. To me this makes national independence less attractive than it might otherwise be because, at the cost of much toil and trouble, it could end in an economy no more dynamic than we have now.

In other words, independence would not release the people’s energies as, for example, the peaceful revolutions in eastern Europe did from 1989. Submerged nations could then make a fresh start after decades of decay under a dying imperialism — a closer model for us than Scandinavia. Our watchword should be: not Sweden but Slovakia!

But I fear that at heart the SNP does not really trust its own people, not if with a revival of slumbering capitalist instincts they are going to challenge its preferred touchy-feely view of the world.

By the same token the SNP easily loses the confidence of the people, and that has been one of the lessons of 2017. I hope 2018 will be better, but I won’t be holding my breath.