I’M writing this from the island state of Malta (population roughly the size of Edinburgh). The socket into which I plugged my computer takes a conventional British plug. Cars drive on the left – there are a lot of cars squeezed into the narrow, hilly roads of Valletta, the Maltese capital.

Signs everywhere are in English, which you hear as often as you hear Maltese, that wonderful, guttural amalgam of Arabic, Italian and bits of every other language bequeathed by this beautiful island’s serial invaders.

Yet Malta has a fiercely defiant local culture and politics. Equally, it has retained an almost cosy sense of its colonial British past, down to red postboxes and telephone kiosks. British rule ended in 1964. The Maltese were not particularly sorry to see it go.

Today, Malta is an amazingly modern European nation, complete with membership of the EU. Economic growth is going like the clappers. It was 8.3 per cent in 2014, 7.3 in 2015, 5.0 per cent in 2016 and circa 7.0 last year.

That’s a phenomenal performance in anyone’s book, especially given the island has little in the way of natural resources and has to import most of its food.

Malta’s GDP per capita comes in at $38,000, which is only a tad lower than Scotland’s. And here’s the killer fact: this has been achieved while the Maltese government has been running an annual budget surplus. The signs of this boom are everywhere.

Malta is festooned with cranes and construction sites. Suddenly, after 7000 years of human occupation, Maltese architecture is streaking skywards in the form of a plethora of high-rise buildings – something the island had escaped until now. Tourism is mushrooming, as you might expect.

But the quality on offer has not diminished. In fact, the combination of service, good food and general safety has proved to be a magnet for tourists from the rest of Europe. (As I can testify.)

Now comes the “but”. This is not going to be one of those articles that content themselves by extolling the obvious virtues of small nations being independent – though one can admire a lot about how the Maltese have looked to their own interests.

There is a downside to the Maltese economic boom that the rest of the EU is quietly ignoring. In short, when you look at the cranes crowding the Maltese skyline, a question comes to mind: where is the money coming from?

One local journalist and blogger who asked the same question was Daphne Caruana Galizia. Last October, Daphne, who was 53, got an answer: she was murdered. Her car was blown apart by a sophisticated bomb device triggered by telephone. This was no ordinary murder. This was an execution. But who instigated it?

Politico, the respected political website, called Daphne “a one-woman WikiLeaks, crusading against un-transparency and corruption in Malta”.

Simply calling her a blogger does Daphne Caruana Galizia a major disservice – her daily blog was read by 400,000 people, which means most of Malta. She used it to expose the cronyism and clientelism that dominates Maltese politics and business. She named names. Clearly, she named one name too many.

In particular, Daphne ruthlessly exposed Maltese banking connections revealed in the so-called Panama Papers.

This was an unprecedented leak of 11.5 million files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The leaked documents exposed how politicians and billionaire businessmen had used offshore accounts to hide their cash. Among them were Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Pakistan’s Nawaz Sharif, Iraq’s Ayad Allawi, and the Prime Minister of Iceland, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson. An offshore fund owned by David Cameron’s father was also revealed.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was one of the key journalists rifling through the Panama Papers. She claimed to have found a web of connections between, on the one hand, Maltese private banks and Maltese politicians, and on the other, various insalubrious foreign regimes.

Put simply, Daphne was accusing the tiny, interbred Maltese establishment of acting as a channel for laundering the ill-gotten gains of various foreign regimes. She was saying, in effect, that Malta’s new-found investment and construction boom is based on very dubious sources of investment. For saying that, she was executed.

The question is by who. Three local hoodlums are on trial for Daphne’s murder, but they are clearly non-entities. We still don’t know who Mr Big is. The trouble is that free-standing Malta has become a nexus for a host of international criminal entities.

Just across the water lurks the Sicilian Mafia, which has long used Malta as a hideaway both for its members and their cash.

Then there is the Middle East connection. Malta has issued (sold) some 700 passports to non-EU nationals since 2014, most of them in the Middle East. This has netted the Maltese Treasury at least €200 million. That’s how you run a budget surplus, by the way.

Next there is the Libyan connection. The Maltese arm of the Sicilian Mafia – in conjunction first with Colonel Gadaffi and now with Libyan warlords – has been using the island as a base to smuggle contraband oil from Libya into the EU. People smuggling is also involved.

Last year, Libyan authorities demanded more collaboration from the Maltese government to stop the “smuggling of Libyan fuels by Maltese mafia” which, according to Attorney General Sadiq Al-Sour, is happening on a daily basis. There has been a series of mysterious car bomb murders in Malta in recent years, as smugglers cover their tracks or eliminate rivals.

So what is the Maltese government doing about it? The Prime Minister is youthful, thrusting Joseph Muscat, 44, a veritable Maltese re-incarnation of Tony Blair in his heyday.

In 2013, Muscat rescued the Maltese Labour Party from political oblivion, winning power from the National Party, which had held sway more or less continuously for the previous 26 years.

Muscat represents the epitome of neo-liberalism, deregulation and privatisation. He has cut a swathe through the traditional welfare state inherited from the hero of Malta’s independence struggle, Dom Mintoff.

He has opened the door to international gambling companies who use Malta as a base for internet operations (another dubious financial connection), torn-up planning restrictions (those high-rise buildings), and part-privatised the health system.

All of which explains that spectacular economic growth – but growth for how long? Property booms are notoriously fickle.

And selling passports to anyone with the cash to spare, cosying up to international gaming syndicates and failing to get a grip of the Mafia are not a sound foundation for sustained prosperity.

Recently, Daphne Caruana Galizia had made allegations about Joseph Muscat’s wife and two of his closest aides, and a shell company in Panama. She claimed there were dubious payments from the government of Azerbaijan.

Muscat has strenuously denied any wrongdoing. He and Caruana Galizia had clashed many times over the years and one suspects suave, sophisticated Mr Muscat would find other ways of settling political scores than a crude car bomb. Besides, he has too much to lose as he has big ambitions in Brussels.

However, Joseph Muscat is riding an economic tiger that could easily turn around and eat him. For Scots thinking of independence, the Malta model of a free enterprise paradise is not the road to follow.