SUNDAY afternoon, Monday morning: two completely different worlds, with a last train to Glasgow Central connecting them. And me as the bemused freelance pilgrim, trying to measure progress on this wildly divided island.

Last Sunday afternoon was FutureFest – a “festival of the future” that I’ve been curating since 2012 for the London-based innovation charity Nesta. If you want to know more, the website contains it all. But along with my fellow co-curators, we really pulled it off this year.

A few hours before my train, I found myself on stage at Wapping’s Tobacco Docks venue, introducing a keynote lecture from one of my lifetime heroes, the musician and artist Brian Eno (who was as gently brilliant and visionary as you might expect). Visitors, speakers and exhibitors had been milling around all weekend, in a state of can-do, what’s-next enthusiasm. This was London, the maximum city, at its most inspiringly maximal.

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The following Monday morning, I got off the bus from Coatbridge and walked to the front of Airdrie Sheriff Court. Having evaded it once, this time they’d got me. In my hand, a summons to turn up at 10am for my first ever session of jury service. A potential £1,000 fine if I didn’t appear; the letters were very big. So I made sure I made it.

The forecourt of the Sheriff Court is a hang-out, of sorts. Groups and families in sports gear (one guy iconically striking in a bright-red outfit), usually with someone in a wheelchair, missing part of a limb.

Across the road from the court, as you’d expect, are a rash of legal practices. One boldly promotes its specialism in “Industrial Diseases”. Asbestosis, mesothelioma, exposure to carcinogens. Something I’ve never heard of called “vibration white finger”.

I have phoned the polite staff at the Sheriff Court to check what I can say about what I saw in court. It’s not much. After being sentenced for assault on Monday, a young, powerfully built man flashed cheeky smiles to his crew at the back of the court. I turned up for three days until being released on Wednesday, when my name wasn’t called in a random jury selection.

Personally, at the end of this week, I’m in a bit of a daze. It would be all too easy to become strictly Marxist about the disjunct here. FutureFest is what happens when a variety of forms of capital – not just financial, but social, educational, cultural – accumulate and settle over many decades, indeed centuries.

The Tobacco Dock is a gated thoroughfare filled with glass box-rooms. And I couldn’t help but feel the echoes of the original Crystal Palace “Great Exhibition” of 1851, where Darwin, Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and thousands of others gazed upon the inventive and productive plenty of the British Empire. (Never mind the colonial histories of a “tobacco dock” itself).

So were we just showing off the accumulated “soft power” of a London cosmopolitan city-state? Which, at least in terms of the Remain vote of its citizens, had just distanced itself from old, tired fantasies of British exceptionalism?

No doubt, and many other ironies to consider too. Some roughage of political economy had been spooned into the general whirl in Wapping. The Green Party’s Caroline Lucas was speaking persuasively, and Compass’s Neal Lawson rammed out one of the glass rooms with his plea for a universal basic income.

And after all that, Airdrie. I found its daytime high street to be a boulevard for what the late William Macilvanney used to call the “walking wounded”. But it would be wrong to see nothing there but grim, ex-industrial limitation. Never mind the future: Airdrie treats directly with the cosmos. A lunchtime wander brought me to the copper dome of a working, star-gazing observatory, crowning the roof of an elegant Deco library. The town has had one since 1896 (a local philanthropist donated his telescope to the local Carnegie Library), but this dome was custom-built in 1925.

And literally next door to this galactic perch, an institution deeply rooted in its place on earth. This is the headquarters of The Airdrie Savings Bank, the only remaining independent savings bank in the UK.

As Wikipedia puts it, the ASB “operates on mutual principles, has no shareholders and is instead governed by a Board of Trustees, appointed to represent the interests of depositors and to ensure that the Bank is managed properly.”

At the time of the financial crash of 2007-8, I remember many articles praising its probity and sustainability. Our most progressive political models imagine a glorious return to this kind of community-centred banking.

So turn down the virtualised dazzle, and the limits of London’s amazing performances become clear. Wipe away the daily grind, and Airdrie has legacies that can support any scale of human progress (to infinity and beyond – but also stretching to a decent-minded business loan).

Yet teasing out these subtleties can’t begin to narrow the basic gulf between these scenes. We need better connections between the streaking-ahead and the left-behind; that’s the core message of the Brexit vote. And surely one of our ambitions for a Good Society – a Good Scotland – would be to forge them.

My indy-supporting compadre, software guru and ex-SNP strategist Gordon Guthrie, has written a challenging manifesto, Scotland After Brexit, out in October. What’s particularly challenging is that Gordon sees the opportunity of a Scotland “independent-in-the-EU” to become “Europe’s leading country” – but by doing everything in its power to attract the cosmocratic denizens of FutureFest (and elsewhere) to work and live here.

And I mean everything. Gordon tells me the “iron logic” of history – the global talent pool, moving round the networks of the world, looking for opportunities – must force us to think like the great multicultural city-states of old.

We should shape our institutions and systems to engage this diverse, polyglot flow, asserts Guthrie. Allow those who speak Spanish, or Mandarin, to educate their children in linguistic enclaves. Make it incredibly easy for them to settle here; give them Irish-style artists' tax breaks up to £50k. Franchise the Edinburgh Festival globally, as a model for multicultural organisation. Indeed, establish a Nobel-Prize style award for European culture.

The general aim? “We have to increase the tax-base somehow”, says Gordon. An independent Scotland as Europe (and the world’s) ultimate destination for digital, cultural, scientific (and doubtless, financial) resources, is Gordon's chosen and relentless focus.

From FutureFest, and from my creative life in Glasgow, London and other big European and global cities, I know this existence. It’s beautiful, rich, satisfying, brimming with possibilities. But it’s not just dwelling with the struggling souls of Airdrie Sheriff Court of a Monday morning that makes me nervous about this as a leading template for Scottish progress.

It’s also a belief that, perhaps, the inclusion, egalitarianism and directness of Scottish national traditions – however they’re expressed, culturally or religiously, politically or geopolitically – may also be a crucial element in what attracts the super-talented of the world to our land in the first place.

I adore the FutureFest crowds and performers. They work creatively in teams, they are irrepressibly curious, they let a playful optimism take them forward daily. But I am sure they do not want their potentialised lives to take place in a gilded bubble, keeping their satisfactions to themselves.

Surely the Scottish “offer” is that they come to a society which has also determined to grasp the thistle of the deep structural inequality of our era. Not just using its own sovereign power to redistribute wealth and life-chances internally – but also becoming a strong advocate for more European and global powers towards that end.

And when they arrive, I might take them on my own guided tour of Airdrie’s centuries-long grappling with modernity, and (of an evening) settle them upon the eyepiece of its six-inch refracting telescope. From the heart of Scotland, there’s a lot to see out there.

Gordon Guthrie’s book is available at For more on the Airdrie Observatory, see FutureFest is at