IN this fifth anniversary week of the first indyref, I couldn’t be more convinced of the opportunities that nation-state independence will open up for Scotland.

However, the political path to it seems murky, difficult. Its Westminster opponents have descended to new depths of cynical strategy. And those unconvinced of the case, living and loving beside us, are still the troubled, watchful, querulous majority.

One of the joys of writing for The National is that this is the hub where most of the arguments to convince our compatriots are being forged, day by day.

For me, a basic belief in the structural capacity of Scotland – not just to govern itself well, but to prosper and lead progressive change – is what founds my conviction.

There’s plenty of indicators for that. My enduring favourite is Scotland as a centre for scientific excellence.

It’s a potent mix – where history meets urgent contemporary relevance. As the fruit both of the Scottish Enlightenment, and the demands of the industrial revolution, Scottish science has often trained its eyes at the most fundamental forces, whether in humans or the universe.

James Hutton compelled us to look at the deep time of geology. James Clerk Maxwell fathomed electromagnetism (setting up Einstein’s theory of relativity).

The National: Clockwise from top left: Cait MaPhee, Peter Higgs, Sharon Ashbrook and James Clerk MaxwellClockwise from top left: Cait MaPhee, Peter Higgs, Sharon Ashbrook and James Clerk Maxwell

John Logie Baird and Alexander Graham Bell sent the human presence across vast distances, by television and telephone.

The Roslin Institute cloned Dolly the sheep, opening up our powers over biology. Peter Higgs’s equations on a missing particle in the elemental physics of the universe were finally proven at the Hadron Collider.

And that’s only a few of the major threads in a thrilling, world-shattering tapestry, still being furiously stitched. I asked both the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and our Science Minister Richard Lochhead, for news of ambitious new “primary”, rather than “applied” science, happening in Scotland.

I make the distinction (though it’s also a spectrum) because it is acutely relevant to Scottish national priorities.

Should future enterprises and industries based here just chase after paradigm-busting discoveries realised elsewhere? Or can blue-sky research in Scotland link up with an innovative and entrepreneurial culture – so that the latter makes entirely new markets and sectors, rather than just playing catch-up and “me too” with others?

Imagine where we’ll be, for example, if any of Lee Cronin’s experiments come off. The Regius Professor of Chemistry at Glasgow University has harboured dreams of uniting computation and chemistry since he was a boy.

“There are four missions in my lab,” Cronin announced to New Scientist last year. “To build a robot that can do all of chemistry (and digitise it – we call it the “chemputer”), to create artificial life, to understand information and to make a chemical brain.”

There’s no point in underestimating Cronin’s ambition. In his Glasgow lab, he’s essentially trying to simulate how raw life occurs – from chemicals to molecules to organisms – and betting that “information” (the deep patternings of the material universe) makes all of that come about.

“My guess is that all matter wants to be Darwinian,” Cronin says, “and we’ll get a selfish molecule that will try to convert all the other molecules to be it.”

You can dimly imagine the outcomes for this. One might be “artificial biological intelligences”. Their soft mental equipment will near the capacity of the human brain (silicon is much more limited by comparison). And if Cronin manages to create new pathways to life in his lab, we might then have enough precision to pick out signs of alien life in the nearby universe.

AMBITIOUS enough for you? In response to my query, The Royal Society of Edinburgh sent me a list from their exhibition Women in Science in Scotland (most welcome, you might well think, given the pantheon of blokery so far).

It’s great to report that there are plenty of hard-core researchers honoured here – like Professor Cait MacPhee, a “biological physicist”, or Professor Sharon Ashbrook, a chemist looking at atomic-level structure of materials, both overlapping with Cronin’s concerns.

But all through the list, you can see primary science in rude health: solar physicists, astrophysicists, experimental physicists; inorganic electrochemists, microbiologists, energy geoscientists ...

Watch those spaces. But importantly, don’t hustle them. Or even better, match the scale of the enterprise to the radicalism of the science itself.

In the material sent to me, there is a lot of eager official promotion of tightly targeted, science-driven enterprises and ventures. However, they mostly put their ingenuity entirely at the service of an existing sector.

Labs on a chip that analyse petroleum flows; genetics-enhanced insect breeding, in the long-heralded hope they’ll become part of the world’s protein diet; digital devices that help dementia patients; waste inspection processes; robot lawnmowers for large surfaces.

All of these are doubtless, to use the lingo, “minimum viable products”. But none of them are a conduit to a fundamentally disruptive, or revolutionary, seizing of the matter of the world.

This is what computation and digitality, rooted in Silicon Valley and American society, has done to our everyday world. We now live a semi-magical existence, where “portals” in our hands guide us where we need to go, anticipate what we want to exult over, mould our consciousness to buy or vote, one way or the other.

That’s the outcome of trillions of dollars of investment by a global superpower. There’s no competing with the massive institutional commitment that guarantees American (and now Chinese) software supremacy.

Indeed, some eras of science-and-tech-driven Scottish business development may well have had a foolhardy ambition to create a “Silicon Glen”.

However, from my dip into the field of existing Scottish science over these few days, I get the sense that something in the nexus between chemistry, biology, and environmental science will be producing some new, reality-reframing industry or service, from this part of the planet.

But perhaps Scottish entrepreneurial vision has to match Scottish science’s grasp of the fundamentals of matter.

LET me conclude with an example, from a very kindred small European country, which perhaps shows just how ambitious a

Scottish industry driven by primary science could be.

I was told this week about the Finnish company Solar Foods, about to open their first big factory later this year. Their slogan is “Food from Thin Air”, and their process is about “unique and pure single-cell proteins” (which they call Solein) “produced from CO2, water, and electricity”.

This requires no soil, no irrigation, no planting, no specific conditions. And produces an endless supply of malleable, usable protein.

My informant believed that Solar Foods’ “microbial protein” would be “bigger than the internet ... It will allow the rewilding of agricultural lands from bovine pasture, foresting that can sequester carbon from the atmosphere ... Essentially, it could save us all”.

As far as I understand them, I look at the scientific elements of Solar Foods – essentially, a super-powered chemistry – and could easily imagine it rising from a Scottish laboratory.

Yet could there be something to Finnish industrial history – never mind their national sovereignty and strategic capacity – that enables them to think of building global industries (Nokia, of course) out of their native ingenuity, rather than be content with providing niche services to existing markets?

It can be hard to see the path to progress for Scotland, at least politically. Our discussions seem, bizarrely, to be bounded by the same constitutional system that has so badly underperformed for Scotland in the past. But look at our scientific prowess, and a commonsensical response to the naysayers rises in the chest.

Of course, we’re neither too wee, nor too poor for independence. But manifestly, and to a prodigal degree, we’re certainly not too stupid.