IT is a frustrating time for all supporters of independence for Scotland, because the fate of the nation has been delivered into the hands of strangers – and there is nothing much we can do about it. At bottom it depends on the unknowable outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Even when that outcome is known, it does not seem likely Theresa May will allow Scots a vote on it.

And even if that vote is held, it will be hard to forge a persuasive link between breaking free from the UK and staying in Europe, because there are many nationalists who support the first but not the second.

The net result of all this, I fear, will be a Scotland trapped in a thicket of troubles from which there will be no obvious escape. Any day of liberation will seem a long, long way away. This is not a comforting assessment, but I think it is a sober one. I’ve not used any intemperate language and the chain of reasoning is as solid as can be amid so many imponderables. I would like to think it might be put in the same class as the recent article in iScot by Pete Wishart MP, where he said that in his neck of the woods in Perthshire the SNP were losing votes to the Tories because of the push for an early rerun of the independence referendum. The former Runrig musician called for a pragmatic approach that would see the demand for indyref2 only pressed once there is enough support from the public.

We can see that, for the time being, the right level of support is not there. The latest opinion poll showed the same as a whole string of previous polls – in fact, almost every poll since the big poll on September 18, 2014. Support for independence remains by a small but decisive margin below 50 per cent, with support for the Union by a small but decisive margin above 50 per cent. In all the extraordinary turbulence of UK politics during three years and more, this margin alone has not changed. The most ardent nationalists argue that it might yet be shifted if a second referendum was pursued and carried through with as much fervour as the first. So let’s have a gung-ho, hell-for-leather campaign and all will be well. They have not only failed to convince me and Pete Wishart, they have also failed to convince Nicola Sturgeon. She is the one who has to decide, and she knows she is the one who will have to carry the historical can if a new referendum goes wrong.

Pete has been shocked at the abuse (“Etonian boot-licker”) heaped on him by militants for his perfectly reasonable argument, proposed as a contribution to a debate that still needs to be conducted even amid the rising chorus of tom-toms and war-whoops. I suspect the stubbornness of the adverse margin is not the factitious outcome of a series of uncontrollable events at the level of the EU and UK, but the consequence of something at a much deeper level within Scotland – a division among ourselves. Till that is resolved, there will be no decisive shift in a fresh direction, either towards or away from independence, and no amount of fulmination will make a difference.

In the SNP as elsewhere, the militant tendency is a tendency of the left. The part of it which makes the most noise is grouped round the think tank Common Weal. I have occasionally been asked to write for it, and, in principle, I welcome contributions to our debates from all points of view. I do read most of the papers published by Common Weal, but as a collection they are curiously unsatisfactory because they never get to grips with what for me is the central question: in an independent Scotland, is the state going to run the economy?

It is all very well for these papers to go on about the undoubted defects of our present housing policy, or tell of the evils of electronic voting. But I want to know if a Scottish government of the future is, say, going to re-establish a steelworks in Lanarkshire and encourage manufacturers which use its products, with support against competition from other countries while it sells to consumers at home and abroad. This is, after all, the kind of economics we used to practise before 1979, and its demise has been widely regretted ever since, not least among SNP members.

But for all its progressive passion, Common Weal is a little too coy to lay this on the line. I smell here an underlying lack of conviction about the “public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”.

Clear, at least, is the preference for a lifting of controls on public expenditure, which after independence can apparently aspire to infinity. But I can’t really think of a government that does not want to spend more money than it has. This is not the mark of a progressive, but only of a politician without sound ideas of his own. There is certainly little concern with where the money might come from.

The UK milch cow will no longer be there, so if we are not to tax our most successful citizens into exile the cash would need to be raised on the international money markets. Bankers in Frankfurt and Paris are likely to have harder noses than the mild-mannered mandarins we at present deal with in Whitehall. Further down the line, if we want to rejoin the EU we will find the negotiators in Brussels demanding deeper cuts than we have known for a long time: it’s in their rules.

Apart from anything else, there is the undeniable historical fact that Scots have never once voted in a majority for socialism. In 1955, they voted in a majority for Conservatism or Unionism or whatever exactly it was in those days, but Labour never matched this achievement (the SNP, while to be sure on the left, is not in any formal sense a socialist party).

Since 1989, socialism has only been a shell of a historical project, still ruining the few countries where it is maintained. We will find it hard to persuade even the dourest Scots to join that dismal club. There is evidence more recent and more telling of their wariness about idealist socialism. In the Scottish election of 2016, the RISE movement (which represents this tendency) got 11,000 votes in the whole of Scotland – or 0.5 per cent of the total.

The fact is there will be no alternative for an independent Scotland but to remain a capitalist country, indeed to rejuvenate its capitalism and to launch itself under its own steam once again into the international capitalist system, as it did to such glorious effect in the 18th and 19th centuries. We will, in any event, remain closely connected to the English economy, and I don’t think the English at this stage are going to turn their backs on capitalism (they can’t think of anything else either).

If we want to rejoin the EU, we will find it is founded on explicitly capitalist principles, especially the free movement of capital and labour, goods and services. The only prospect of a socialist Scotland lies in a completely isolated and isolationist Scotland.

That is why, while we wait for the present fog around our prospects to clear, we should concentrate on working out practical capitalist plans rather than chimerical socialist fantasies. We should be cutting taxes, not raising them. We should be liberating enterprise, not stifling it with regulation. We should favour the private sector, not the public, sector. If we act as independent people, we’ll become an independent nation.