IN the current meltdown about internet giants, their leaky data on us and the creepy political operators who are trying to jerk our chains with all this information, there’s one element I keep doggedly hanging on to.

If regulation of these out-of-control entities is partly the answer, who should best do the regulating? And if we think that an independent Scottish state is a chance to govern ourselves according to best practice, what would our ideal regulatory options be?

First, a brief description of the mess – which, as we will see, may or may not directly apply to Scotland.

The headline story is the way that the political consultancy Cambridge Analytica was able to access information for 50 million Facebook accounts, and (the latest news) 57 billion different “friendship” connections. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had a massive management failure here – which has been partly driven by his zealous belief in a “radically transparent” society. Cambridge Analytica used that data in the Trump (and possibly the Brexit Leave) campaign, targeting potential voters with extremely specific Facebook posts and messages.

There’s a smoking gun here. Was Facebook just complacent about taking ad revenue from such players, who worked the platform’s own social dynamics so effectively? Or were they actively colluding with them?

Jamie Bartlett, Demos’s internet director, has written about how his recent BBC documentary profiled Trump’s “Project Alamo” centre – which had 13 staff from Cambridge Analytica. Bartlett also discovered that staff had been seconded to the Alamo from Facebook and Google – “there to help their well-paying clients best use their platforms to reach voters”.

And did this super-powered process make a difference? Much of the commentary, in the last few days, has tried to paint Cambridge Analytica as bloviators, hyping up their own demonic powers to secure their clients. (That’s one reading of the Channel 4 News video sting, and the moustache-twirling behaviour of its executives).

Bartlett disagrees. Trump’s late campaign switch to the states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan was driven by data gathered from the “universes” of voters CA created. (Clinton probably received the same data, but chose to ignore it). By means of tiny, eked-out margins, Trump won those states – and thus the presidency.

Bringing it back to these islands, the Westminster Parliament is currently investigating whether Cambridge Analytica worked with Aaron Banks’s Leave.EU organisation during the Brexit referendum.

Weaving in and around all this is the parallel, and maybe overlapping, info-war strategies of the Russian state in Western elections. I think the indy movement should welcome some investigation here. In the looser data environment around Facebook and other social media that pertained in 2012-2014, were outside forces seeking to game social networks in the independence referendum?

The answer may turn out to be “nyet”. But it wouldn’t harm us to know. Certainly my experience, standing in the Yes engine room, was that all the endless social media memes were coming from a combination of obvious inputs. There were committed makers in the main organisations, but also a wild outpouring from bedroom creatives across the country.

Yet Better Together probably did apply a crude version of the CA method. “Project Fear” targeted Facebook users with scary – and ultimately successful – messages, as their marketing director Rob Shorthouse admitted to a media conference in 2016.

Now, for those of us interested in another independence referendum sooner rather than later, there are two questions that arise from all this. One: if politics is now an arms race of data technologies, is there any choice other than to get your hands dirty? And two: if we agree this is a filthy, distorted situation, what reforms could independence bring that might clean it up?

The first question is profound. What it presumes is that citizens (Scots no less than others) are passive, distractable, entranced users of information services – at least some of the time.

The business model plugs straight into that mindstate. You get Facebook or Google for nothing, and it works better and better all the time, because your behaviour on it is so valuable to advertisers. Would people come out of their trance if a new set of regulations came along – ones that narrowed the feed of our digital lives to the ad-men? Meaning that Facebook had to charge us a fee (ouch)?

Or would many actually prefer to be mined for their data, in order to enjoy the endless bounty of an apparently “free” internet?

If so, and if you were in campaign mode, you might well say “we have to be in that digital warzone, conducting hand-to-hand combat”.

My pushback on that would be that this underestimates the deep character and particular contribution of the indy movement. As this paper’s Yes DIY initiative indicates, it’s often driven by people committing to socialise (and cogitate) with others in real time, laying the devices down for a few hours a week.

Of course, the devices can be picked up again, to communicate the value of the event. Take the admirable work of the street-level videographers Independence Live, Phantom Power and Broadcast Scotland. They are organised enough to create memes and content that can be easily shared with non-Yes friends and family.

No, they aren’t juggling 5000 image and text options, instantly and infinitely customisable by algorithms on supercomputers, devising content that zeroes in on your number one anxiety. Let bigger players on the Yes side plan along those lines. But I predict that, as a general consequence of all this dizzying manipulation of our screen-minds, there will be a general “return to the human”. That means going to sociable places, where felt issues can be explored with live people, rather than fake bots. And any “truth” that’s sought will be about informing common action and aspiration.

It feels to me that a political movement that is already doing such a super-powered localism may well be ahead of the current game. Evidently, authentic media which serves this living process – rather than one that fiendishly calculates the psychological options from on high – will be increasingly powerful.

And could these small meetings start to think through what the bigger, institutional answers might be to our disillusion with data? Common Weal, as you’d expect, has been assiduously working out what our digital realm would be like under an independent Scotland, in a number of papers.

But I had an unpredictable and interesting exchange with Craig Dalzell, CW’s head of policy (and a noted data-head), about all this. If we made data more difficult to collect, Craig suggested, then there might be socially beneficial outcomes we could lose out on.

What if health, economic and housing data could be combined, in a way that allowed precision targeting of public investment? What if we went further and had a massive, real-time computer simulation of the Scottish economy, constantly updated from a galaxy of data points, on which we could test policies before rolling them out (a Paul Mason idea)?

And what if one of the elements of a new Scottish citizenship was to consciously contribute to such systems, for demonstrable social good (though of course with the easy and explicit right to opt-out of everything – except, say, taxes and health)?

The EU-driven data regulations that are nearly upon us – and which even the Brexiteers say they will harmonise with – go some way towards establishing that agreement with citizens.

But looking to the innovative spirit of small states like Iceland, Finland and Estonia, an indy Scotland could push forward an explicit info-citizenship, one that aimed to re-establish trust in these massive systems. And out of new regulatory environments often come entirely new enterprise sectors. Why shouldn’t the post-Facebook model for ethical data-driven organisations come out of Scotland?

No shortage of inventions and reforms are pursuable under indy. But it all has to be rooted in a fully mindful population. Many of us felt like we were, as citizens, fully awake in 2014 (no matter the result).

The seductions and befuddlements of information-war in 2018 may require us to stand up, step out and grip the hands of others again. Whether directly in the service of indy – or just for our own human dignity.

“Preparing Scotland Digitally For Independence” is available at the Common Weal website,