Has the SNP “come off the rails in spectacular fashion”, to paraphrase Fiona Bruce on BBC Question Time? Maybe Scotland’s governing party has indeed jumped the tracks, but not in the way imagined.

Look at the seemingly endless stream of current policy problems and you may spot a common theme. Unduly centralised decision making and top-down governance. Keeping the “little people” out of decision making is the British disease and no Scottish party has developed immunity – certainly not the SNP.

Admittedly, the more usual marker of difference between Westminster and Holyrood is the latter’s more generous welfare support to alleviate poverty. But there are other ways to measure progressive governance in Scotland and on each count all political parties, except the Greens, score a fail.

One is tackling a pattern of land ownership that means Scotland is owned by fewer “high wealth” individuals and companies today than it was in 1872.

The other is reversing a creeping centralisation that means Scotland has no real local government – just regions, so large, cumbersome and remote that a voluntary, community-led sub-stratum has developed to haul vital local services and assets from the jaws of closure and dereliction.

Since many community and land activists also support independence, they’ve tholed the SNP’s unwillingness to build real local control into governance frameworks and enact a land tax to kickstart real land reform. After all, Westminster’s been no better.

So, despite legislation that’s let communities escape the stifling conditions of quasi, feudal, land ownership that still apply everywhere else, there has been only one direction of travel since the Scottish Parliament re-opened in 1999. The abandonment of local democracy. It has been so complete that the estimable Martin Geissler suggested on Radio Scotland that Scotland’s essentially regional councils might have fewer funding problems if there were fewer of them.

Why not? Scotland might as well just have one massive central procurement unit for all “local” services because the present arrangement sits uncomfortably betwixt and between. Councils are not big enough for the strategic planning performed by regional councils until 1996, but nowhere near local enough to hoover up the energy and commitment of citizens who waste years on pointless consultation exercises, toothless, non-statutory community councils and highly demanding community buyouts instead.

Put bluntly, Scottish “local” councils are almost 10 times larger than the EU average. Norway has almost 400 local councils. Scotland has 32 with roughly the same population - perhaps the most structurally centralised country in the democratic, developed world.

What does that do? It flares off resourcefulness, knowledge and commitment and treats local people like opinionated, unpredictable obstacles to the perfect execution of centrally devised Great Plans – not the vital key to any success. No successful democracy works this way.

When politicians rush to praise the considerable efforts of the plucky little people running islands, schools, community centres, parks and harbours in their “spare” time, do none of them consider how Scotland might be completely revitalised if that energy was running straight into formal local democracy too? Or would massive citizen engagement be too threatening for an absurdly centralised system, that yet appears normal, right and “cost effective”? A system that has brainwashed everyone into believing distant, urban, technocratic elites can run communities they’ve no intention of visiting, better than actual inhabitants.

So disregard the warm words. Disregard even community control of land, since countries with fair rules on land ownership and genuinely local councils don’t need or demand such extra selfless activity by citizens. Land and assets in countries with real local control are already community controlled.

Nor do Nordic neighbours have a rural housing crisis with locals sleeping in cars, hotels closing because staff have nowhere to live, and well-paid NHS jobs unfilled because there are not even sofas left to crash on temporarily. None of this would be tolerated if communities were habitually in the driving seat.

So, it’s no wonder Nicola Sturgeon’s departure has allowed simmering discontent to boil over. Islanders are furious with state-owned Cal Mac which stumbles from one bad decision to another without a single “reality-proofing” islander on its management board.

Coastal communities are in revolt against centrally imposed no take fishing zones, even though one established in Lamlash Bay on Arran has proved a dramatic success. The Coast charity launched Britain’s first community-owned survey vessel last week, to enable more academic research into the abundance of marine life that’s developed after 15 dredging-free years, including larger, healthier fish, lobster, scallop and crab populations (and thus neighbouring fishing catches) for up to 60 kilometres.

And yet this pioneering forerunner of Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) came about in 2008 because two local divers who saw and filmed the sea-bed damage done by trawlers and dredgers met local fishermen with a rough no-take zone, shifted the boundary to suit the fishermen and walked away with an agreed area four times larger than they’d walked in with. Why did that work without officialdom? Because all involved knew the area, the seas and one another.

That’s totally missing from an HPMA plan so impractically and offensively top-down, many suspect Marine Scotland designed it to fail. Our seas are too important for such game-playing.

If politicians force the fatally flawed HPMA strategy upon infuriated communities they will conflate ecological management (which is actually popular) with micromanagement by Edinburgh, which is not. Equally, fishing communities can overlook the dangerous emptiness of their seas, or acknowledge that tiny areas of sanctuary for stocks to recover might be a good thing all round, If they are devised, agreed and managed by local people.

As it is, HPMAs may derail the SNP at the next election in coastal and island seats unless the party axes the scheme, has a management shake-out at Marine Scotland and pledges to reform Scotland’s centralised governance structures. If it won’t and no other party rises to the challenge, a new party undoubtedly will.

What will real local democracy cost? Probably less than the badly conceived, centralised plans which are worked around, tholed and rejected by local communities, or the years spent negotiating labyrinthine consultation structures, opting to buy assets just to have some local control and a workable solution.

A taskforce could investigate how our neighbours manage. Norway’s ultra-local councils have evening meetings, and therefore unpaid councillors. Each director is generally in charge of several departments and wee councils work together on bigger projects. It works. Is anyone in Holyrood interested to find out why?

Meanwhile, this is my final column for The Herald. I wish good luck to whoever fills this space.