ONLY with some difficulty was I able to get past Sir Tom Hunter’s introduction in his economic call to arms this week. “There was a time,” he wrote in The Herald “when all of Scotland came together, the impact was startling – we invented the modern world.” Aye, right. It was the sort of trite Scottish exceptionalism that leaders and important people think appeals to our sense of pride and national identity. In truth, it’s condescending and assumes that we, the idiot punters, wrap ourselves in saltires while shouting “freedom!” at the skirl of a distant bagpipe.

If we are to have a real conversation about how Scotland stages a sustainable recovery post-coronavirus it would be a good idea to ditch the delusions. Scotland did not invent the modern world. At best, we were one of many small nations whose people contributed some of the ideas and ingenuity that improved our shared human experience. The Declaration of Arbroath did not inspire the fathers of American independence. Can we not just appreciate it for what it is without making extravagant claims on its behalf?

Perhaps I’m being too unkind. Unlike many successful entrepreneurs who are content to enjoy the fruits of others’ endeavours without paying anything back, Sir Tom seems like a caring chap who’s sincere about leaving the world better than he found it. His foundation has helped many individuals and groups to grow wings and fly. When it comes to blowing smoke up our fundaments, though, he’d be advised to leave it to the politicians who can do it without thinking.

Yet, when you eventually did drill down to the essence of his homily there were some sound conclusions, even if it was a little light on specifics, a charge he levelled at Benny Higgins. Mr Higgins is the Scottish Government’s new best friend and he had also issued us with his roadmap to recovery. Mr Higgins says he is no fan of paying everyone a fair universal income. This is hardly surprising as the mere prospect of this would have caused his former employers at Tesco to reach for the Diocalm.

Sir Tom rightly concluded that Scotland’s small to medium enterprises (SMEs) held the key to recovery over the next five years, though he ought to press for a more nimble and adroit approach to public sector procurement. He also wrote passionately about the need to consider ideas from a wider arc of talents.

“Do not have the civil service or your agencies write an implementation plan for a customer they don’t really understand,” he urged Nicola Sturgeon. “Let us in business take this on, trust business to do it and work with you on this,” he added.

Yet, while I may be inclined to trust an entrepreneur with a verifiable track record of making ladders rather than pulling them up, I’d demur at ceding significant influence to the wider business community. Were it not for the sharp practices, profiteering and predatory instincts of large corporations we’d be looking at the future with a shade more optimism.

The biggest weakness in Sir Tom’s diagnosis and cure was the absence of anything resembling collectivism. It was all top-down when it needs to build from the shop-floor. The key to a well-managed and fair route away from the privations of coronavirus lies not in giving rich businessmen the idea that their ability to make money is the golden mean of a healthy economy.

Any prescription that omits the trade union movement and the Living Wage Foundation simply won’t work. The stagnation in the wages of our poorest-paid workers prevents them from supporting small businesses and building local economies. The tilt towards the tyranny of zero-hours contracts by the High Street’s new cartels erodes the confidence of young people to make long-term financial and emotional commitments.

Predatory behaviour such as this happens when trade unions are discouraged and the workforce is dehumanised and measured only in their profitability. No one is denying you the right to turn a reasonable profit but when you sacrifice the right to dignity and respect in the workplace for it you aren’t running a business but a sweat-shop.

The reasonable and fair deployment of capital permits all sections of society the chance to contribute. When this is distorted by greed and avarice it quickly descends into unfettered capitalism. At times of mortal peril it begets disaster capitalism where billionaires feed on pestilence, war, famine and death and invest in those governments who specialise in making these happen. They have feasted on coronavirus.

During these wretched months we have been at our best when those with very little have risked everything to maintain the lifestyles of affluent people. The very worst of us was observed in the actions of Tim Witherspoon, Richard Branson and Willie Walsh, head of British Airways’ parent company IAG who, despite decades of massive profits instinctively sacrificed their lowest-paid staff at the first hint of trouble.

It’s a template now being followed by those further down capitalism’s food-chain as tens of thousands of jobs disappear. Yet, no-one it seems is prepared to ask why our financial system always demands that those who are least able to cope with an economic challenge are the first to be jettisoned. Each Thursday we stood to applaud them and our NHS workers for their daily sacrifice. Now that they are being fed to the wolves the applause must be ringing hollow in their ears.

The myth of the ‘wealth-creators’ travels on the lie that an enlightened group of capitalist necromancers is solely responsible for their own success and that only through their natural beneficence are the rest of us blessed with a job. The truth is that the workers are the real wealth creators. If large corporations could discover a way of making profits without having to employ actual people they’d escort us all from the building personally.

By all means, Sir Tom “engage the best brains from around the world”; your “job-creators and entrepreneurs”. But unless you include those who protect the vulnerable and who maintained Scotland’s life-support during this contagion then you ignore the lessons of history.

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