NOW that’s what I call a referendum result. In 1991, Slovenia voted Yes to independence by 88 per cent on a turnout of 92 per cent. OK, this tiny European country of two million beside the Adriatic had to fight a small war to have the popular will actually carried out, but the lesson is clear: don’t hold a referendum on independence until you absolutely know the result. SNP take note.

In nearby Slovakia they didn’t even bother with a referendum when they split, amicably, from the Czech Republic in 1993. The two countries started spontaneously managing their own affairs and decided it would obviously be better if they went their own ways – hence the Velvet Divorce. Slovakia, population five million, has never looked back. It even has an SNP bridge, though it stands for “Slovak National Uprising”.

Travelling around these tiny Slavic nations – at the other end of the small nation spectrum from the Nordic States we usually hear about – it’s clear that independence in Europe undoubtedly works for some. They were both enthusiastic joiners in 2004 and welcomed the euro with open arms. Slovakia has consistently enjoyed the highest growth rate in Europe since independence. It is now the world largest car maker, per capita, and one of the sights of Bratislava is watching barges loaded with cars and industrial materials flowing up and down the Danube.

Slovenia wasn’t far behind until it experienced its own banking crash in 2012. But its growth rate today is recovering fast. And good luck to them – after spending the 20th century under the heel of either Nazism, Communism, or the Austro-Hungarian empire, these little nations deserve their prosperity and are incidentally great places to visit.

However, I would caution Scottish nationalists about drawing too many comparisons with the small nations of central Europe. First of all, don’t expect them to be left-wing. Both Slovenia and Slovakia adopted the flat tax road to economic growth, which has led to inequalities only too apparent in the ostentation of the bling classes in Bratislava with their monstrous 4 x 4s. The minimum wage is little more than half what it is here. Both countries are gradually increasing taxes now, but in Slovakia the top rate is still 25 per cent.

Slovenia recently voted in a referendum against same-sex marriage and has blocked the movement of refugees over its borders. Indeed, Slovenia had the dubious distinction of providing the visuals for Nigel Farage’s “Breaking Point” poster in the UK General Election campaign. Those queues of brown faces were not EU migrants entering Britain, but Syrian migrants being refused entry to the EU at the Slovenian border. Slovakia’s Prime Minister, Robert Fico, has openly tried to impose a Muslim ban.

Slovakia is also extremely jumpy. Driving a foreign vehicle, I found I was repeatedly stopped by police, even though I’m pretty obviously not a refugee. Mind you, the same happened in Austria, and especially in Hungary, where a climate of migrant paranoia is developing which has echoes of Russia, at least in the swagger of the gun-toting police.

However, Slovenia and Slovakia remain democracies with a free press and a commitment to human and civil rights. They had to be to get into the European Union. No one in Slovakia talks about Brussels as a foreign power “controlling our laws” the way the Little Britain Brexiters do. Precisely the reverse: here the EU means a guarantee of national self-determination, human rights and freedom from external oppression.

Has nationalism fostered ethnic resentment? Well, the border issue aside, not obviously. This is partly because these small nations are, or were, linguistically diverse. The Slovenian referendum had to issue polling cards in Italian, Hungarian, and German to be understood by the communities established here in the 20th century, often as a result of forced migration. These linguistic communities now seem to share in the ideal of Slovenian nationalism, and its values of autonomy, solidarity and democracy. However, there are persistent reports of hostility to Romany people and non-white immigrants.

This sense of solidarity is perhaps one reason these countries didn’t lapse into the kind of chaos we saw in Greece, even though Slovenia had a comparable banking crisis. The people are so committed to the myths of national autonomy that they were determined to make the EU medicine work. And when I say “myths” I don’t mean to disparage the cultural self-confidence, pride even, that you find in these countries about their independence. They had to fight very hard for their freedoms.

However, there is a palpable weariness with austerity and low wages. Slovakia has just had its first serious strike since the fall of communism at the massive VW plant outside Bratislava. One thing I didn’t expect to see in Ljubljana was a large pro-communist celebration in Congress Square, the very place where Slovenia’s declaration of independence from communist Yugoslavia was declared in 1991. And they weren’t just a handful of ancients remembering how Josip Tito liberated this part of the world from Nazism in 1945. There is discontent with inequality in Slovenia as a new generation emerges for whom communism is a distant memory.

Perhaps the real lesson for the SNP is that it should stop being obsessed with trying to make the economic case for independence. That’s getting the cart before the horse. They never bothered with arguments about currency and fiscal black holes in Slovakia or Slovenia before independence because it was about something much more important: freedom. Ultimately, the case for independence will always stand or fall on a nation’s desire for autonomy, not marginal economic gain.

The SNP also has to recognise that making the case for national liberation is much more difficult in a country like Scotland when people do not feel oppressed or denied civil or political rights as they were in Slovakia or Slovenia. However, Nicola Sturgeon is right to focus on the European Union. It is not possible to envisage an independent Scotland that is not part of the EU, or in a halfway house like Norway. And it is equally very hard to see what future awaits Scotland as part of a UK that has left Europe behind.