UK politics is not in a good way. The future looks bleak domestically and internationally, and closer to home Scottish politics appears becalmed and stuck.

Anger, bitterness and acrimony are all around us – and beyond that anxiety, bewilderment, fear and foreboding about what the future might bring and the failure of mainstream politics.

Yet while all this is self-evidently true, it is correct to say that the characteristics of politics and public life which rise to our challenges and shape the future will be defined by a different set of qualities – an outward, hopeful mindset shaped by confidence.

This is true of the current state of Scottish politics and the independence debate, and its location in the wider UK context. The mainstream UK political parties seem bereft of the ideas, energy and vision needed to address the scale of crises and challenges facing the UK.

Take the UK Conservatives. Twelve years into office, they have degenerated into an embittered, miserablist Toryism where the present-day unhappy condition of the country is somehow nothing to do with the mistakes and myopia of the British Conservatives. Rather it is the fault of “the enemy within” – militant trade unions, left-wing activist lawyers, liberal educationalists and “woke” broadcasters and advocates.

They are faced by Keir Starmer’s uber-cautious moderate social democracy which cannot believe it has built up (for now) huge poll leads in the face of Tory infighting and meltdowns, but which has so far failed to present an ambitious agenda for the future.

In Scotland, our political dispensation sees a defensive Scottish nationalism facing an even more defensive British nationalism – Unionism being a form of nationalism. For now, neither side has the insight or self-assuredness required to make a major strategic move to reset the debate, speak to and win over doubters, and establish a dominant position.

What could change that is often reduced to process points such as the SNP calling a snap Holyrood election or making the next Westminster contest a “de facto referendum”. Or kite-flying exercises such as, in the case of Labour, the allure of Gordon Brown’s latest plans for reforming the UK and progressing towards “near federalism.”

Scotland and the times we live in deserve more digging deeper and looking at what passes for our politics with a greater degree of self-criticism.

Twenty years ago, I published a book called The Scots’ Crisis of Confidence by Carol Craig. It caused a significant public debate and had impact and influence. Arguably, the book’s core ideas and the debate it spawned contain some of the seeds and keys to Scotland’s future.

The argument put forward was that Scottish public debate had for too long fixated on big structural questions which stopped us from, perhaps inadvertently, feeling a sense of collective agency. These included the obsession with our nearest neighbour, England, and continual navel-gazing in the never-ending search for a strong, secure Scottish identity which did not feel threatened.

Craig’s thesis was that rather than over-focus on externals, such as our relationship with England or supposed existential threats to Scottish identity, we should look at how we conduct ourselves, and address the cultural dynamics of Scottish society – from how we bring up children, live our lives and conduct personal relationships to the wider values we embrace and embody in society and culture.

This take did not gain universal acclaim, with some on the left thinking that it had shades of Thatcherite individualism, while several senior academics said “where is the evidence” for this supposed “crisis of confidence”. Yet it did speak to a Scottish constituency at the time that was not being addressed politically and posited the need for social change.

The thesis was original in that it proposed that change was not just about narrow politics, institutions and structures. Rather it was about the sum actions of thousands of us in everyday life in our private and public lives and in this we together had the power of collective agency.

THAT was 20 years ago. The SNP won office in 2007 and a parliamentary majority in 2011, and this seemed to display their manifestation of a Scotland with confidence which did not need the above explicit debate.

Then came the 2014 independence vote. In the last few weeks of the campaign, Craig said she was attracted to the Yes side’s confidence, but not their over-claims and “Project Pollyanna” – and thus would vote No. This led political commentator Iain Macwhirter to observe post-vote that Scots had found their confidence, only to be told by Craig that it was “the wrong kind of confidence”.

In the present context, some of the core ideas of this debate are worth re-examining and reasserting in relation to independence. For example, implicitly in the confidence debate are echoes of the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole’s take on Scotland and 2014 – that it was about “the art of growing up” as a nation and taking collective responsibility for who we are and what we want to be.

Similarly, the 2014 Yes campaign of chief strategist Stephen Noon was based on a triptych of positive messages – “can, should and must” – building up a belief in the possibilities of independence as change, recognising that for many the subject had to be reintroduced into the mainstream, overcome Scottish pessimism and negativity, and then sell the action aspect – each stage forming a sequential pillar in the independence argument.

Today, Noon has taken another implicit message of 2014 and Yes and made it more explicit – namely that Scottish self-government should be about “a bit of Union and a bit of independence”.

This is too much now for some on the Yes side but it was how Salmond presented independence in 2014 with his idea of a future Scotland retaining “five of the six unions” it is presently in and only ending the political union.

All Noon was trying to do in the present was reframe and reposition the case for independence in a way that did not pose it as completely opposite some interpretations of the Union. To some that may be heresy, but it is worth exploring.

A Scottish independence which articulated a confidence about the nation and its future would have a can-do attitude. But it would also understand, as in 2014, that we have to go through several stages before the action stage.

We have to deal with the realities of present-day Scotland, 23 years of devolution and 15 years of the SNP. We cannot uncritically defend the state of modern Scotland, the SNP in office or the Scottish Parliament.

Instead, we should have a mindset of honesty and candour, and an ambition to shape the Scotland of the future – and to do big and small things which impact on and directly change lives.

In so doing, we should draw on past examples and inspirations to show capacity and agency. Past generations have done monumental things on child poverty, public health, slum clearances, scientific and industrial innovation and much more.

These are lessons and inspirations – knowing that previously in often very demanding times, politically, economically, fiscally, we could bring about fundamental and long-lasting change, many of the benefits of which are still around us.

Scotland’s future will not be shaped for the better by the minimalist, managerialist politics which we see all around us and which defines all our mainstream parties, pro or anti-independence.

The future will be created by those who look at the present and look to drawing up a roadmap to the Scotland of the future.

They will use the shortcomings and failures of modern Scotland to not only say we can do better, but that we will do all in our power to collectively build up our capacities, insights and drive to make that country of the future.

This could overcome and bypass our present stalemate and make self-government and self-determination a project of not just politicians and politics but of every single one of us who calls Scotland our home.