THE SNP always planned to carry on drilling for oil after Scotland wins independence. Apart from its practical uses for fuelling machinery and travel, oil was to be the lubricant of the new nation’s economic freedom.

Just like Norway before us, we would be able to judge and assess for ourselves the state of the international markets in a normally lucrative commodity. And we would become actors on those markets with our own advantage, nothing else, in mind.

In a material sense, then, there was at the same time something inevitably grubby about oil. What saved its place in our scale of values was the moral value of independence. If a nation could justify that to itself, then it could put up with greasy, perhaps bloody, smears on its hands.

For us as for all nations worth the name, the moral value of independence came out on top of anything else. Or at least, policy on this point was clear and simple till the Green party arrived at Holyrood proclaiming the virtues of the opposite policy, of shutting down our North Sea oilfields to rely on renewable sources of energy.

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So how do things stand now? The two parties of government in Scotland have entered into a quasi-coalition which puts down on paper a programme for the next four years.

The programme has a lot of detail. From close up it is not pretty, and often dull. We will move towards net zero, taking more greenhouse gases out of our economy than we put in.

The government that has to decide how much carbon dioxide five million people can swallow will not have an enviable job. Still, above all, we are promised, we will be moving towards independence, so we can put up with a lot. In practice this will only be if UK Prime Minister Boris Johnston agrees. Make up your own mind about the likelihood of that.

It is all as clear as a gurgling oil well, and has not grown any clearer through the filter of those feverish excitements at the climate conference in Glasgow. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was brought into polite personal contact with Greta Thunberg, chief challenger of the world’s leaders.

Greta was well-mannered enough not to repeat her main line against the gilded group at the global gathering, that its slipstream of politicians are all hypocrites who only pretend to mean what they say. Militants want action, not just words. The rest is “blah blah blah.”

Nicola had already made clear that, in one particular, inaction is indeed her preference. She will not oppose the start of drilling in the Cambo oilfield 125 kilometres north-west of Shetland. It demands heavy investment as it is one of the deepest fields and biggest finds ever to be discovered off northern Europe, 1100m under the sea but worth exploiting for its 800 million barrels of oil.

How far can this resource be reconciled with the activist clamour to turn the lights off? Part of the reaction must be that we cannot have a uniform answer. A cool country with long winter nights is entitled to take account of that, especially when it has oil under its own waters. The immediate alternative, to bring less accessible fuel from further away, can serve no purpose.

A Scottish Cabinet minister, Net Zero Secretary Michael Matheson, specifies that exploration of the North Sea will carry on so long as Scotland has domestic demand for it to satisfy. Asked whether an independent nation, promptly returning to intellectual integrity, might stop new oil and gas drilling on its first day, he said: “We’re still some way off from decarbonising our society and we will still require an access to a level of hydrocarbons.”

Matheson also recalled the White Paper on independence which, ahead of the 2014 referendum, cited rising oil prices as a way to boost the economy of an independent Scotland.

Any new version would focus on renewables, he said, though fossil fuels would continue to play a part in the energy mix for the foreseeable future: “Even if you decarbonise all of your transport system and are no longer using fossil fuels, you will still require access to fossil fuels for pharmaceutical purposes, so there are other areas where you will still require access to them.”

So is Scottish nationalism changing direction, or not? If Scotland does not need oil so much, then perhaps it does not need independence so much.

Those most suspicious of Nicola note how the national project seems to have slipped down her agenda, as she seldom talks about it. This column, from week to week, mentions it more than she does.

We need to look at further conceptual evidence. In now open opposition to his former protege, Alex Salmond can remind us that under him Scotland aimed to match England’s economic growth rate, and in his period of big projects fed from high capital spending it was on the way to success. Since then the momentum has been lost, and Scotland continues to trail England, not by a long chalk but all the same by a margin we seem incapable of closing.

One reason is that Nicola lacks interest in growth. When she set out her own list of priorities in Glasgow, she spoke of “delivering on our promise to end our contribution to climate change within a generation, putting a just transition and wellbeing at the centre while taking the big and difficult decisions that will create a net-zero, climate-resilient and fairer future”.

She never mentioned whether Scotland would get as rich as, or richer than, England. In other words, she just left out what had been for decades the implicit main aim of the SNP.

So now the SNP are an exception among the governing parties of Europe, which all seek growth, and in addition it is in quasi-coalition with the Greens. What they think about growth does not take long to tell. They are against it altogether. Ideally they would wish our economy to shrink, with even less to go round for scruffy mums and snotty weans.

The National often reports our failures to make these unfortunates into equal members of our society. The trailblazer of patriotic opinion still thinks it would be a big step forward for us to do what we have done before and make our country richer rather than poorer. Not least, with a more productive economy we could have quicker redistribution than we have had before.

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The only systematic policy Nicola proposes to correct the actual drift is what she chooses to term socialism. She is as vague about it as about much else. Here, I often remind her that socialism is the least successful political doctrine in the history of the world, but she seldom discusses what it means in terms of practical policy. Erratic nationalisation is as far as we get.

Scotland’s performance of her programme has been woeful. The Ferguson shipyard at Port Glasgow remains a disaster in its trading history and finances. The oil services company Burntisland Fabrications has just failed to win a contract designed for it, and seen the prize carried off by competition from the Far East.

About the history of Prestwick Airport, it is pointless to elaborate. Here, and in other cases too, is the Scottish public sector taking the lead.

If the sector could genuinely generate profitable industry as the First Minister desires to see it, with her government directing the detail of economic expansion, I don’t think independence would be long delayed. If not, we will wait a long time.