OLD Dante would feel right at home in 2022. There’s a sense that we’re walking in the poet’s footsteps.

In The Divine Comedy, Dante passes into hell through gates bearing the legend "Abandon hope all ye who enter here". At its heart, Dante’s epic satirises the corruption and cruelty of medieval society. The satire stands the test of time. It could be dusted off to illustrate the fearful state of life today. Terror, extremism, lies, violence, threat and ruin are everywhere, just as they were when Dante visited Satan 700 years ago.

Maybe Dante seems so relevant, as Italy now dominates the news in its own hellish way. The country has just embraced the far right, with the Brothers of Italy party – a direct descendent of Mussolini – ready to take power. No "March on Rome" was required this time, unlike with Il Duce in 1922. The Italian embrace of extremism reminds us how important it is that nations which have sinned should be compelled to confront their past. There was no equivalent to "denazification" in Italy after the Second World War. If there had been, perhaps Italians wouldn’t be where they are today.

It has already risen

Italy now threatens to destabilise the entire European project. Hungary is already a regime thoroughly incompatible with EU membership. It’s no longer truly democratic. Viktor Orban, the demagogue on the Danube, is closer to Vladimir Putin than any western leader. Now Giorgia Meloni is Orban’s new Italian friend.

France could follow. There’s every chance Marine Le Pen will one day stride into the Élysée Palace as President of the Republic. Then what? How could the European project survive if both France and Italy shifted to some modern iteration of fascism? It couldn’t. The far right wants to destroy the EU as it represents liberal democracy.

If you fancy a thought experiment in terror, then just picture the world a few years from now if Democrats lose the next American presidential election. While it’s highly unlikely – though not impossible – that we’ll see Donald Trump back in the White House, there’s every chance his anointed successor takes office. As the Republican Party is now fully captured by Trump’s "America First" movement, that means a far right presidency. Any successor will be much smarter and more adept than Trump, and therefore a damn sight more dangerous.

So the far right isn’t just rising in the West, it has risen. The European Union is about to face the toughest test of its existence. Brexit is nothing compared to far right governments working to destroy the EU from within. And there’s a 50-50 chance of America returning to an even more deadly form of Trumpism.

Yet, here we stand with Putin breathing down Europe’s neck, threatening nuclear war. If America drifts back into Trumpism, Washington won’t be the friend it is to Europe today. What then? How would Europe face Russia if the EU was tearing itself apart and America had retreated into isolationism? What would befall Ukraine, if American backed away from its European allies? And if Ukraine loses, then Russia will become even more aggressive and expansionist in eastern Europe.

Throw in China – the giant awoken, as Napoleon warned – and in terms of "abandoning hope", you’d need to be pathologically optimistic to remain positive. Right now, Russia is weak, but China is strong. If China felt Europe was collapsing and American power ending, what might Xi Jinping do to establish Beijing as the world’s dominant power? What might that encourage Russia to do?

Branching paths

In Scotland, no matter how much we pretend to be an outward-looking nation, we’re in truth rather parochial. In terms of an international dimension, our political debate runs little further than whether we’d return to the EU post-independence, with a side order of talk around Trident and Nato.

In this dark world, Scotland must raise its game. Whether independent or not, Scotland faces a cold and brutal future. If we stay in the Union, then we’re shackled to a rogue Westminster government. The Truss administration is engaged in an act of national suicide. Its economic policies have tanked the pound. Ruin is coming. Britain is relatively friendless and weak internationally. Washington treats London with contempt; there’s zero trust or respect in Europe.

If independent, though, what do we face? Might we re-enter Europe just as it collapses? Or re-enter Europe as it reorients itself around far right principles antithetical to values Scotland – for now at least – holds?

If we remain in the Union, then we face down Russia with nuclear weapons – together, clearly, with all the unimaginable risk entailed. If independent, however, we’ll need allies, and Nato won’t take kindly to removing Trident and, in the alliance’s eyes, causing havoc to western security.

In the Union, we stay tied to destructive economic policies. Sure, some put hope in a coming Labour electoral victory. Yes, that’s likely, but Labour won’t last, it never does. Maybe Labour gets two terms – at best – then we’re back to Tory mayhem. That cycle is as sure as the sun rising. If we leave the Union, though, how can we escape Westminster’s economic madness given SNP policy is to remain tied, at least initially, to the pound? The euro is also weak today; it will worsen if Europe teeters.

We began with talk of hope’s abandonment. But is there hope to found? Yes, there is. Scotland is a healthy liberal democracy. There’s no threat of us tipping into extremism. You may not like any political party at Holyrood but none offers a trip to the outer limits of acceptability. In terms of hope, that’s not really good enough, though, is it?

Real hope lies with changing our national conversation. Scotland must become truly outward-looking. We need to stop gazing at our navels and face the world square on. Most of our politicians keep the discussion parochial, though, as to do otherwise would require hard answers from them. So the onus is on us to up our game intellectually and force politicians to do likewise. The world may seem hopeless, but at least we’ll understand our options – no matter how dark – if we ditch ideology and talk openly as a nation.

Read more from Neil Mackay:
The inside story of the terrifying rise of the far right
We are all now in a war for the future

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald