WHEN written in Chinese, the word chaos is composed of two characters. One represents danger, and the other represents opportunity. So said John F Kennedy, and as we emerge from the wreckage of Covid 19, the opportunities it affords us should be uppermost in our minds.

We should not be afraid to express that sentiment. We are in a war. Not a war against another nation, or a terrorist entity, but a war against a virus. And just as when we emerged from great wars, we took the opportunity to do things differently, we must do the same now.

The impact of coronavirus has been so severe, the consequences so profound, that we have an obligation on behalf of our people to exploit any silver lining we can possibly find in the enormous cloud which hovers above us.

This can be a time of total national renewal. A time to hit the reset button across public life.

I am no longer a party political player, and I have written in these pages on many occasions that I have found the SNP in government to be reliable and competent.

Since its election in 2007, a relatively small group of talented people have managed the country perfectly well, however the key word in this sentence is "managed". This has not been a radical government, and given the inevitability of its continuation until at least 2026, we are all invested in that changing.

In Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney, the country has two people who, due to the former’s historic popularity, are almost uniquely placed to take the country with them whatever they decide to do. Leaving aside the independence issue, to leave a legacy worth remembering, it is time to throw caution to the wind.

The obvious first, and probably most important example, is uppermost in our thoughts this week: education. Our focus currently is on an acute issue in the form of the exam results, just as a few months ago it was on the acute question of when children would return to school. But those are snapshots, stories, symptoms.

READ MORE: Jobs guarantee for young Scots backed by £60m funding

The real issue here is not the acute but the chronic; we have a state school system which is inadequately preparing our children for the world which greets them when they leave. I have now acquired direct experience of this, with four children in the state school system.

It is not hyperbolic to say that I have encountered almost nothing which has genuinely impressed me. We are living a lie in this country, blindly accepting old tropes about Scotland having a world-leading education system. We do not. It is unambitious, with very little encouragement of the pursuit of excellence. It is secretive, with decisions invariably favouring councils and unions at the expense of pupils and parents, who are often treated as an inconvenience. And it is iniquitous, with those (like me) who have been able to pay for a house in a good catchment area effectively purchasing a chance for our children to emerge unscathed.

Education leads to economic success. Education leads to high tax receipts. Education leads to good health and wellbeing. Education reduces welfare dependency. Education is everything. But we are sleepwalking into a national catastrophe because we are too afraid to admit that we are struggling.

Today, the education secretary John Swinney faces a confidence vote; a trap laid by opposition smelling political blood. Fine; I’m certain the SNP would do the same if the shoe was on the other foot. But I’m not interested in that. As a citizen I recognise that the SNP will be in power for the next term of government and I believe that Mr Swinney has the skill, knowledge and respect to lead a rethink of everything. Starting age. Term times. Class sizes. Curriculum. Everything. We are all invested in his success.

This is true not only of education. When the story of Covid 19 is told, I’d put the mortgage on the NHS emerging from that story as the hero. The NHS, as has often been said, is this country’s national religion, and the hysteria which accompanies any sceptical comment about its quality ensures that the only political intervention it attracts is no-strings-attached increases in funding.

READ MORE: Letters: This is the final nail in the coffin of our education system

That is no longer acceptable. As we try to analyse, in Scotland and the UK, whether we have coped well with Covid 19 relative to our peers, to leave the NHS out of that discussion would be an act of national self-harm.

There are facts here, and they sit stubbornly in the way of the narrative. Our NHS has 20 percent fewer doctors per head than the OECD average. We have barely half the average number of hospital beds per head. We have less than half the number of MRI scanners, and one-third the number of CT scanners per head.

We scrape into the OECD top-20 for survival rates for major cancers – colorectal, breast and cervical. We perform even worse – outside the top 20 – in mortality rates for heart attack, haemorrhagic stroke and ischemic stroke. And all of this is despite comparable financing of the system. Readers, we are not the envy of the world.

This is not OK. We should stop thinking this is OK. We should stop saying this is OK. It demeans us to do so. You can support taxpayer-funded healthcare, as I do, and support the people who work in it, as I do (which those who know my family will realise is obvious), whilst also advocating a renewal of the delivery mechanism.

The list could go on and on. A taxation policy designed both to minimise the burden on the low paid whilst encouraging success and attracting high earners. Much more ambition when it comes to our digital and physical infrastructure. More exploitation of our unique geographical legacy to lead the world in the move away from fossil fuels.

However the critical first hurdle in a national renewal – the part we in Scotland have always found ourselves unable to leap – is to admit that we have problems. That we too often bask in our own mediocrity. So here’s one idea. The Scottish Government should create a small National Renewal Unit. Give them a big travel budget. And let them bring back the best of the rest of the world to prepare us for a post-coronavirus future.

• Andy Maciver is Director of Message Matters

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