THIS column has often been critical of the Scottish Government for its apparent lack of concern about the poor performance of our productive economy and its concentration instead on the redistribution of income – which must in the end dry up unless the performance improves.

Now there is a better outlook after the announcement of plans for a Scottish National Investment Bank with a budget of £2 billion to support deserving businesses.

A particular aim is to foster strategic projects with “patient” long-term funding, in contrast to the demand in the world of casino capitalism for double-quick returns. Nicola Sturgeon said: “The time for debating whether or not this is a good idea has passed, it is now time to get on with making it happen. We are determined now to move at pace.”

READ MORE: For independence to stay radical we need to retrace our original vision

Her urgency is easy to understand. Scotland has today lost nearly all its big companies, leaving us with an economy of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) often ill-served by the inherited means of financing. Traditionally, much of this economy has been reliant on the Scottish banks which, as they hurtled towards their own self-destruction, conceived the perverse plan of driving entrepreneurs out of business so that their assets could be seized. That phase of our banking history is happily past, but still many SMEs are imperilled from their outset because they cannot quickly generate enough revenue to cover the heavy costs of starting up. Too many of them go bust in their first year of operation.

It is a big, though not the only, reason for the widening gap between the rates of economic growth in Scotland and England. The First Minister cannot avoid addressing this problem because it will be a hot topic in any early second referendum on independence, from the No side if not from the Yes side. While the Scottish growth rate remains so bad, the voters are likely to reflect that we still need money from the Treasury in London regardless of our views on Brexit or anything else. Either that or we must pay higher taxes for the sake of our social services, something also unlikely to swell the Yes vote.

So SNIB should be seen as part of a wider strategy. The plan is for it to be set up as a skeleton structure next year, and for its banking operations to be in full swing by 2020. We would, of course, be foolish to expect any significant results over such a short span of time. The poor performance of the Scottish economy is deep-seated. The most basic problem is low productivity.

We get less output than other countries for our inputs of capital or labour, and do not make the profits that would allow further investment in successful activities. It is true this declining productivity has been general in European economies since the financial crisis of 2008. But it seems, for reasons little understood, to be especially bad in Scotland.

One reason, I would myself have said, is that Scots have got too used to seeing the state do everything for them, or try to: the dependency culture. The SNP Government is not in the least unhappy with this state of affairs, despite the economic damage done. On the contrary, it believes that the Scottish version of a state, though not yet full-fledged, should see itself as in principle omnipotent, merely constrained for the time being by the defects of devolution and by the limits they impose on its budget.

Even so it thinks it can and should micromanage as much as it can of the whole range of Scottish life, private or public. But the real deal will come with independence and the throwing off of all the fetters on the government’s control freaks. This is the environment in which SNIB will need to operate, and I am not sure how it will fit in. The man who wrote its blueprint, Benny Higgins, chief executive of Tesco Bank, said it would fill a gap in the market for loans between £1 million and £10m to SMEs with high potential for growth.

He dismissed concerns that the new bank, with a core mission of promoting economic development and an aim to achieve returns in excess of the cost of capital, might crowd out profit-seeking commercial lenders.

But start-ups and SMEs have a high failure rate, so that a bank which lends them money or takes a shareholding in them will need to do a lot of work to monitor progress. And it will need to strike a balance, when looking for a return on that investment, between a rate which adequately rewards its own shareholder (the government) for the big risks involved, while at the same time not being unduly onerous on the companies getting the investment. We need to be ready for losses too. No outfit gets things 100 per cent right, and the whole point of a state bank is that it takes on business nobody else would touch. There is a corresponding downside risk.

It must be said that in Scotland our record of “picking winners” in this way has not been encouraging. Other nations may do better, but here we are just left singing “Linwood no more, Bathgate no more”. From steel to microchips, it is hard to think of any long-run success for the old Scottish regime of handing out subsidy and hoping for the best. The biggest growth in the economy over the last 50 years has come from North Sea oil, for which government can hardly claim credit.

The second biggest growth has come from financial services. Government at first disapproved and imposed on them a Selective Employment Tax meant to tilt development back towards manufacturing, presumably on the argument that all Scots workers must wear boiler suits and carry oil-cans. Today the manufacturing is gone but the financial services remain.

So I remain just as tentative about a second part of SNIB’s remit, that it should also help to finance, possibly through direct investment, projects promoting innovation to tackle “grand challenges” such as artificial intelligence or reduction in carbon emissions. This, at least, is a new idea, owed to one of the First Minister’s economic advisers, the passionate Italian-American, Professor Mariana Mazzucato, director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London. She says: “Innovation requires patient strategic finance, and there is simply not much of that in the UK … Importantly, the bank will not just seek to simply correct market failures. It will help to steer the path of innovation towards overcoming key challenges by creating and shaping new markets.”

It all sounds wildly exciting if it ever comes to pass, and it certainly fits in with the SNP’s long-term vision of an independent nation wholly dominated and decisively guided in economic terms by the Scottish state through its visionary politicians and its dynamic public servants. I merely reflect that, in the history of the world, all such previous collectivist regimes have come to grief and sputtered out in cronyism and pork-barrel politics. The great successes of Scotland, long ago as they seem now, have rather been owed to individualists with an insight of their own which they set out to realise. The independence of the country would allow us to revive that lost tradition, together with the wealth and happiness it generated. At the very least, I think we should leave some room for it too.