AFTER last week’s column, Robbie Mochrie, associate professor of economics at Heriot-Watt University, wrote in and took me to task for failing to show how, after Scottish independence, a new political party might arise intent on making this country at last a full and willing participant in the global economy on the same capitalist terms as every other country.

We would similarly solve our big problem with the overbearing nature of UK capitalism, of being always a laggard dosed with remedies concocted by people south of the Border who know nothing about us.

Let me say before I start that I don’t think Boris Johnson, even with the help of his local sycophants, is going to solve this big problem either. But then I am also not impressed by the plans with the same purpose recently rolled out by the Scottish Government, and supposedly ready to start operating at the end of this year.

The central feature is a national investment bank, to be chaired by Benny Higgins, formerly of the Royal Bank of Scotland and of Tesco Bank. He is to be assisted by a board that contains more professors than businessmen.

Why do we need another quango like this? Official agencies meant to reshape the Scottish private sector have, after all, been with us for nearly half a century. They started in 1975 with the Scottish Development Agency set up by a Labour government. The Tories later transformed it into Scottish Enterprise, so making explicit its departure from their opponents’ dependency culture.

In fact, Scottish Enterprise also has or had a department called a national investment bank, though whether or how it is to survive remains unclear. In favour of the new bank, we can at least say it means to concentrate on a particular issue that has emerged from these 50 years of experience lacking, so far, a definitive solution to our difficulties.

Scotland has a lot of small businesses – about 350,000 of them. They account for more than half of employment in the private sector and 40% of turnover.

It was from this sector that all the renowned corporate giants of Victorian times emerged, when Scotland led the world in heavy industry. That pattern of development came to a halt in the 20th century and has not yet revived in the 21st century. The hope of the Scottish Government is that, with the right sort of help, it just about might.

The trouble with our abundance of small companies is that they have a hard enough time just surviving, let alone growing up into giants. For most new ventures, there is often a bumpy patch at the start, in their first few years, when they need to finance the initial investment before an ample enough flow of revenue can be created by actual production and profit.

In the past, many promising businesses have gone bust at this stage, and this has helped to keep growth in the whole economy sluggish. Renegade Scottish banks, bankrupting troubled entrepreneurs in order to seize their assets, have not helped.

These entrepreneurs then often find it difficult to borrow money beyond the start-up phase, sometimes 10 to 15 years forward from that. They need what has become known as patient finance. It will be an important focus for the new investment bank. The idea is to give support to the more ambitious companies and infrastructure projects, with a result in the wider economy of innovation and high growth rates. Then the whole of Scotland will benefit.

So far, so good. But the Scottish Government, in its usual bossy way, has in its guidelines gone into detail rather further than sensible general rules might require. It adds, for example, that: “The Bank’s primary mission will be to support Scotland’s transition to net-zero carbon emissions through a range of debt and equity products.”

I WOULD be happy to concede that support for the transition is something the bank might well bear in mind while it assesses the projects that come to it for finance. But should it really set net-zero carbon emissions as its primary mission? What is the relationship between such emissions and higher economic growth? Usually, higher economic growth increases emissions, although the effect lessens as companies learn to deal with this development of their business.

Scotland is lucky in having quite an innovative economy. It includes, to quote a recent official handout: “thermal imaging that helps robots detect humans, flat-packed building blocks made from recycled plastic, molecular imaging technology, revolutionary malaria treatment and biofuel made from whisky by-products”. Pretty groovy stuff from the land of the mountain and the flood. And we need more of it. Scotland has long lagged behind England in economic growth rates. We must reverse that if we are to persuade our citizens that independence offers them more than the Union of 1707 does, and to induce them to vote for it.

I do not myself believe solutions are to be found from any governmental omniscience in the matter of “picking winners”. We should be on the lookout for enterprise, not political correctness. Let me illustrate the point by comparison with our near neighbours the Republic of Ireland, whose economy 100 years ago was in a position not unlike our own might be in a few years’ time: new nation, new prospects, great chances.

But Ireland’s chances were largely wasted. Eamon de Valera and the revolutionary wing of Sinn Fein took it for granted that their country’s problems were the result of English domination and tyranny, especially by the landlords.

This was perhaps largely true but it was not wholly true. One reason the new Republic remained so poor lay in the fact that it chose disastrous economic policies. It spurned industrialism and looked forward to salvation through peasant agriculture: “dancing at the crossroads” was the metaphor De Valera chose for the sort of social order he placed his faith in. After half a-century of this, the Irish people decided they had had enough. The rest of the world was changing on lines that owed nothing to romantic myths, but still changing for the better.

The government in Dublin gambled on dismantling the wall of tariffs it had put up against exports from the UK. Then it joined the EU and other international organisations. It offered incentives for inward investment by footloose foreign companies. Finally, the Republic became what it is now, a perfectly normal society of the capitalist European kind, open and inventive, rather than a sequestered outlier of the quaint and quirkish.

So my answer to Robbie Mochrie is that I hope we in Scotland will follow the Irish path, only rather more quickly. Capitalism is the only practicable theory in the sense of making countries rich.

Socialism is hopeless, and other theories are too imperfect to be of real use. But I think we will need to learn all this from economic experience rather than from political pontification. Then, at Heriot-Watt University and everywhere else, the party can begin.