A RECENT Financial Times editorial contained some of the most striking sentences thus far written on the  consequences of the pandemic. “The Black Death”, they write, “is often credited with transforming labour relations in Europe. Peasants, now scarce, could bargain for better terms and conditions; wages started to rise as feudal lords competed for workers. Thankfully, a much lower mortality rate means such a transformation is unlikely to follow coronavirus.”

Even to reference the plague reflects a growing fear that the pandemic could be one of those pivotal moments in history where old social structures collapse. At minimum, it implies the possibility that a system creaking under the weight of economic instability, social alienation and political decay may not survive its encounter with a global plague.

READ MORE: Jonathon Shafi: SNP must put independence first and forget EU obsession

Certainly, the high watermark of corporate globalisation has long since ended. Faced with this, the inevitable response has been denial. But we don’t have to look far for modern precedents: today’s denials are uncannily similar to how Soviet bureaucrats responded to the collapse of their own systems.

There is denial about the persistence of the virus itself. Perhaps, as if by magic, it will disappear. But as Britain moves out of lockdown, second spikes are already occurring elsewhere. And denial, too, that unless there is systemic change, we will not survive the climate crisis, as the Arctic hits record high temperatures, releasing prehistoric pathogens.

All of this coincides with a nihilistic ruling class, who feather the nests of the elite rather than redistributing wealth and power. This adds exclamation marks to each of the manifold crises we face.

As some look towards authoritarianism and repression as a means to discipline society, others are engaging in movements that present alternatives to climate breakdown, racism and despair. It is here where the visionaries reside. Across the global south and into Europe and the United States millions are breaking with the orthodoxies of the past. And in Scotland too – there is a debate emerging about how we rebuild from the virus.

In March of 2019 – a year before lockdown – 240,000 Scots children were living in poverty. Crucially, two thirds of these were living in working households. At the time, Douglas Hamilton, of the Poverty and Inequality Commission, said, “poverty has a firm grip on Scotland. Behind these statistics, there is the reality that over one million people are locked in a daily struggle to make ends meet.” Counterpose this to the wealth and resources that Scotland has, and ask why.

Fast forward a year, and we are entering into uncharted economic waters. Unemployment has sky rocketed and whole industries face collapse. The consequences of this fuse with dilapidated services as Tory austerity has been passed onto Scotland to be administered by the SNP. Desolation grips large parts of the country and while much can be done under devolution growing numbers are rightly concluding that the full powers of independence are required.

It is within this context that we read the report of the Economic Recovery Group, established by the Scottish Government. Convened by the former boss of Tesco Bank and current chair of Buccleuch Estates, Scotland biggest feudal landowner, Benny Higgins, it has few recommendations. Indeed, as the Fraser of Allender Institute commented: “There is little in the report of substantial policy insight which is new or different to what has come before.”

READ MORE: Rush to contain cross-border outbreak - as public health report also reveals spike in stillbirths and neonatal deaths

And there is certainly nothing to challenge the vested interests of the energy giants, landowners and the corporate sector. Because this is a report aimed at protecting these interests in the aftermath of the virus, not about the socio-economic transformation Scotland so desperately needs.

Indeed the composition of the ERG is a mirror image of the establishment. It includes Dieter Helm, a leading critic of wind energy who was appointed by Theresa May to lead a review of the financial cost of energy in the UK. Former Chief Executive of Edinburgh, Dame Sue Bruce, who as economist George Kerevan has pointed out, “strong-armed the Scottish Government into subsidising the giant US investment and property conglomerate Nuveen to rebuild the St James Centre.” Robert Smith, chairman of the British Business Bank and property developer Forth Ports, joins them, alongside Glasgow University Rector Anton Muscatelli.

Little wonder then that beyond buzzwords there is nothing about changing the approach to procurement. Or that prominence is given to supporting the private sector, rather than to the Scottish Government building up its own capacities. The ‘business-led’ jobs guarantee scheme comes with no assurances that young Scots will be offered a two-year contract. Despite the cack-handed use of the word resilience, there are no proposals for domestic supply chains, and of course there is nothing around developing a public model for developing national infrastructure.

It is notable too that among the soup of progressive-sounding phrases that, “Green New Deal” is studiously avoided. Clearly, they seek to embody a top-down approach to insulate the discussion from more radical – or should we say required – ideas. No surprise then that they advocate a “council of business advisors”, rather than one of citizens groups and unions to guide the process.

READ MORE: More than 1000 Covid cases definitely caught in Scottish hospitals

Between this report, the Growth Commission (which would have seen an ‘independent’ Scotland begging the IMF for loans during Covid-19, since we would not have had a central bank), and the fact Scotland’s £3 billion portfolio of green and renewable assets are to be sold off to global investors, the direction of travel is clear – and it must be challenged. We need a people's recovery – one that matches rhetoric with deeds.

It is no understatement that 2020-2030 may be the most important decade in human existence. It is risible to imagine that an evidently paralysed status quo have the vision necessary. The time for deference has long passed, as has reliance on the economic orthodoxy that has so clearly failed people and planet. Real transformation from this pandemic is not just possible – but necessary. It will be driven by social movements, trade unions, and visionary thinkers. Not by the same old establishment – north or south of the border. 

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