SO, signed letters are arriving at the desks of political leaders, borne in briefcases gripped by sombre officials. It’s as if email was too trivial a medium for the dissolution (or assertion) of state relations.

This is, of course, a bit hilarious. It’s the flows of digital information, and all the economic and institutional applecarts they’ve turned over, that are partly the root cause of this momentous exchange of vellum. But it’s also a reminder.

The merest duties expected of us as citizens – that we tick the electoral boxes by which governments or constitutionalists secure their mandate – can still have enormous, system-shaking impact. States can rise or fall, transform or deform, at our hands. A springtime for Western democracy, then? Is that how it feels to you? The emotional and cultural brutality of recent journeys to and from the ballot box, juddering across society and media, may well give you pause.

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So it was like a blast of crisp, cool air to accept an invitation from the Finnish Institute in London, where this week they were launching (with the usual Nordic lack of ambition) their “Next Era” project. In their words: “An initiative to track, connect, and amplify emerging ideas for an open and forward-looking society”.

They did San Francisco in January on “The Future of Work and Income”, and they’re doing Tokyo in May on “The Future of Growth and Progress”. (Note to Scotland: if we think that “Second Scottish Enlightenment” theme has legs, we better bloody get on with it.) But at King’s Cross on Wednesday, the theme was “The Future of Democracy and Participation”.

Is this the high-minded view from another egalitarian, North-European semi-utopia? Not quite.

Compared to other Nordic countries, the Finns’ trust in government dropped by 20 per cent between 2007 and 2015. Some 82 per cent of them believe Finnish society is threatened by growing inequality. The current government has the anti-immigration (though economically old left) Finns Party in its ruling coalition. So it’s not as if Finnish democracy is some perfect progressive dreamland.

Even so, Finland has at least six state organisations dedicated to thinking about long-term futures. Finns pride themselves on being problem solvers and quick adapters; the way they shifted in the 90s from being a producer of crude products to a high-tech giant (the Nokia moment) is the paradigm example.

In this Next Era project, you can see those collective mental cogs turning again.

Their democracy paper, from Elina Kiiski Kataja, of Sitra, brims with ideas and perspective. She begins with an entertaining and truculent table which compares “futures thinking” with “representative democracy”. It’s not good. While the former thinks long-term, complexly, proactively and across disciplines, the latter thinks “budget/election”, “gotta sell it to the nation”, “react at the last minute”, and “not my job, mate”.

Futurists rule, evidently. But they are also sympathetic enough to note that most nations nowadays are constrained by what the Harvard economist Dani Rodrik has called the “political trilemma”. Simply put, any government has to make choices between democratic politics, a powerful nation-state and economic globalisation. You can chose two out of these three, but never all three at the same time.

It’s fun – of a grim kind – to play out this schema. If you want a strong nation state with a vigorous democracy, you have to unweave yourself from the “deep economic integrations” of globalisation (as Brexit Britain is doing from Europe).

If you want to integrate your nation-state with economic globalisation, you have to accept a loss of internal democracy. (See how the eurozone and the IMF disregard or trample over the referenda – or agendas – of its members.) And if you conceivably wanted to harmonise democracy with globalisation, you’d have to yearn for forms of government that transcended the nation-state (a stronger European Parliament, or some global federalism shimmering on the horizon … ).

Thus the “trilemma”.

Rodrik’s more recent writings make clear the EU faces a clear choice. It can loosen up its integration, keeping the whole show on the road by responding to the democratic complaints of individual members. Or it can deepen this integration, make the social and welfare provisions of a common Europe as powerful as its market and commercial conditions. Yet this would impinge even further on members’ national sovereignty.

If Scotland places its chips on “independence in Europe”, will we be asked to state our preferences between these two paths? Will we have to articulate our “remain and reform” position? If we are regarded as part of the overall EU project, then yes; if sucked down into the roiling trade seas with Brexit, certainly not.

I’m well aware that the preceding sentences make a huge presumption – that Scottish democracy can sweep the “settled will of the people”

to a Yes vote. I’m also aware that the sheer effort, drama and trauma involved in trying to get there is part of the reason why modern democracy is having its trials.

Very much echoing the analysis of The Alternative UK, the Danish-inspired political platform I’m involved in, the Finns’ democracy paper is appalled at the low numbers of their compatriots who are members of political parties.

It currently stands at six per cent of their eligible voting population (though in Scotland it’s just under four per cent, and in the UK it’s just over two per cent). Grinding loyalty to the party system, and deep literacy in its ideological doctrines, is the main qualification for being a political representative. Where does this leave the 90-odd per cent who don’t want to join these establishment-literate tribes?

In the space between, the voters and the parties are the swirling forces of civil society and digital networks – currently the crucial and central zone of politics.

We heard from two intriguing players in this zone. One was an artificial intelligence researcher who believed his learning machine could help confused citizens make clearer choices (the room was sceptical).

But the other was a former employee of SCL Group, which has the Trump and Brexit data consultants Cambridge Analytica on its books. He told us that US data protection laws are much weaker than the EU’s, so they can get up to more mischief there (which is to send individually-tailored messages to psychologically-profiled voters). In the coming degulatory free-for-all of Brexitannia, there may be richer pickings. But he wanted to set us idealists straight, a little. “You are all very interested in participatory budgeting, which is just lovely”, said the charismatic fellow. “But I tell you, with all the money they can amass, what they are building is – a gun. The two questions are: “Who is holding it?”; and “Do you know that it’s being held against you?”.

Some of us do, yes. And we’re steeling ourselves. But from a Scots perspective, it was confirming to listen to a room full of Finns (and their sympathisers) list their “radical reforms” for democracy – with the wind of an interested and constructive government at their backs. We’re not doing too badly, by comparison.

Sitra suggests that Ministers take time to live with the families of their voters, and invite them into their professional development sessions. The Scottish Cabinet already does its summer tour of towns. And an Edinburgh civil servant was excitedly telling me how 2000 service users were being mobilised, to help shape the new welfare powers coming to Holyrood.

The paper states clearly that social and economic inequality coarsen our capacity for democracy, robbing us of the patience, tolerance and thoughtfulness required. Finland is about to trial universal basic income on a national basis. They are fully aware that it will support the “social infrastructure” that stands behind a high-trust democracy, as much as it raises the economic floor of the whole country.

What kind of people do we want to be, asks the First Minister? Socially-minded democrats like these, I’d suggest. I had a good day.

To find out more about Demos Helskini and Sitra’s The Next Era project, go to www.nextera.global