When I first saw that letter from Britannia Hotels in Coylumbridge callously ordering its sacked employees to vacate their accommodation forthwith, I thought it must be a fake. A hotel? Telling its staff to hop off in the middle of a pandemic with nowhere to go?

But no. It appears to have been genuine, though Britannia now claims it was an “administrative error”. Yet, if they had only waited a couple of days, Britannia need not have suffered this public relations catastrophe. On Friday, in a development unprecedented in British economic history, the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, undertook to pay 80% of the wages of staff who might have been laid off because of Covid-19.

This will cost untold billions, especially if it eventually includes the self-employed and those on zero-hours contracts. The risk to the nation’s finances are immense; the risk of corruption and fraud is great. But the risk of not doing it was even greater still.

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The Government realised that the economy was about to collapse as firms, like Britannia, sacked workers on an epic scale. Millions of people faced a loss of their livelihoods, and not only in leisure and hospitality. The multiplier effect meant thousands more business were about to go bankrupt, plunging the country into a depression.

The Government has in effect enlisted these displaced workers and their employers into a national coronavirus army, with the Government paying the bill. Rishi Sunak makes an unlikely Leon Trotsky, but what he is doing is almost war communism. Not even during the Second World War did the government guarantee wages to this level.

How this new army will be demobbed after Covid-19 is defeated, and how the Government will extricate itself from the economy are questions for another day. But right now the question is whether even this will be enough. In theory, what the Government has done should keep the economy in cryogenic storage for the next three months at least. But it hasn’t kicked in yet, and it needs goodwill on all sides to work. The Chancellor made a heartfelt appeal on Friday for everybody to work together in a great “collective national effort”. Unaccustomed words from a Conservative, but Rishi Sunak caught the mood perfectly.

We are a society that has not held collective effort in high regard. The first instinct of many in our acquisitive society will be to make as much money out of this unique situation as possible. From vulture capitalists targeting distressed firms, to businesses fabricating their employment rolls, to people being creative about their lost earnings and expenses.

Then there is the instinct of top managers in big companies to funnel windfalls into their own bank accounts through excessive pay, bonuses and share options. This must not happen. Senior management should be required to reduce their remuneration for as long as they receive these Government subsidies.

It will be business as usual for many other companies in the shadow of this deepening social and economic crisis, in which all the rules are being changed. Left in the dark, capitalism often behaves badly, as we saw before and during the financial crisis. Government and regulators must be on the alert for unscrupulous traders trying to exploit the hardship of others.

Already we have seen price gouging of everything from anti-coronavirus drugs like chloroquine to medical face masks. Companies like Amazon are cracking down on firms unreasonably increasing prices of the goods on their website. But Jeff Bezos’s digital behemoth is likely itself to make super-profits out of consumers unable to leave home.

After the 2008 financial crash, unscrupulous banks (mentioning no names RBS) used their financial muscle to squeeze small businesses, and then, when they had nothing left to give, bought them up at

rock-bottom crises. RBS was heavily criticised by regulators and the Commons Finance Committee for its insensitive and aggressive approach to distressed firms.

RBS’s Global Restructuring Group and its property arm West Register operated below the horizon of regulators and the public eye. What they did was technically legal, just manifestly unethical. Only the work of tenacious reporters like Ian Fraser, author of Shredded, brought to light the various scams used by financial institutions to manufacture defaults after the crash.

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Selling interest rate hedging products under false pretences; removing overdraft facilities at short notice; making changes to loan agreements; raising interest rates and ramping up charges. It takes an expert even to understand the multifarious ways in which banks can exploit distressed firms.

There will be greater scope for this “financial terrorism”, as it is called, as coronavirus works its way through the population. Many firms could fail in the next few weeks – not because they can’t pay their workers, but because they can’t pay their debts.

Some people, on social media in particular, have been warming their hands with schadenfreude thinking of all those capitalists getting their comeuppance. What they don’t think of are the hairdressers, wholefood shops, vegan cafes, tattooists, architects, theatres, yoga studios who are struggling to survive. Yes, they are capitalists too – anyone who runs a business is one. The vast majority of Scottish employees work in small and medium firms. If they go under, they lose their jobs and livelihoods. That means they can’t pay taxes and Government revenue falls. And if the Government can’t raise taxes, public services collapse.

As for nationalisation, only companies big enough to present “systemic risk” are likely to be taken over by the state. And it’s worth remembering that much of RBS’s worst behaviour happened while it was in state ownership. Nationalisation isn’t necessarily going to halt corruption and bad practice.

There are a million ways to exploit people and a properly regulated business working in a competitive environment with good pay and conditions is better than a state-owned behemoth with no consumer responsibility run for the benefit of its managers. That’s what we learned from Eastern Europe after the Berlin Wall came down.

But the paradox is that this Tory Government is applying more socialist state control than any government since the Second World War. The coronavirus crisis has forced a Tory Chancellor to introduce socialist policies in order to save capitalism. Jeremy Corbyn is understandably miffed, but the Conservatives are very good at reinventing themselves according to the times. That’s why they have been the most successful political party in British history.

In last week’s Budget, Sunak boasted about ordering the biggest expansion of public investment since 1955. Since then he has launched another £300 billion business rescue plan, and on Friday, another £7bn on to the social security bill while guaranteeing 80% of the wages of laid-off workers.

Will it be the end of it? Almost certainly not. Some five million

self-employed, freelance and gig economy workers feel left out. But this is still a huge step forward by the Government, working in concert with the CBI and the TUC. It is a genuine tripartite approach, much more like the European – even the Scandinavian – model, than Anglo-Saxon capitalism as we have known it.

In 2008, a Labour Chancellor, Gordon Brown, bailed out the banks; in 2020, a Tory Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has gone a long way to bailing out the workers. Covid-19 has turned politics upside down.