EMPATHY is a much-derided concept these days, in the age of thin-skinned political strongmen and culture warriors who believe destroying an opponent means winning an argument.

Poor old Empathy is so put-upon we forget it’s a two-way street. Empathy isn’t just about thinking yourself into the shoes of someone less fortunate or someone who’s suffering. Empathy is also about thinking yourself into the Bond Street loafers or Dior slingbacks of the rich and powerful.

What would you do if you were in control, how would you act if you could influence the world?

Neil Mackay: Sturgeon and the missing Covid messages - something is rotten

That notion is the nucleus of Good Samaritan laws all around the planet. If you - fit and healthy with a mobile in your pocket - see someone dying in the gutter you’re required to ring an ambulance. Belgium enshrines it best: failure to help a person in danger is a crime unless helping that person also puts you in danger.

There’s something repellent, isn’t there, to human nature - either the mind, or perhaps the soul, if you’re so inclined - about the strong failing to offer assistance to those in peril. To have the power to help but then shrug your shoulders, surely debases everything that’s good about our poor, weak species.

Clearly, some believe the opposite. Some consider life to be a Darwinian knife-fight, a scramble for survival, where I’ve every right to put my boot on your head and push you under, kicking my way to the top.

The books of Ayn Rand - a terrible writer and a failure as a human being - still sell among the ranks of hardline conservatives in Britain and America. Read her execrable novel Atlas Shrugged for a vision of that barren hell where we’re all pitted against each other.

Or you could save yourself the agony and recall how Thomas Hobbes described this "state of nature" - this "war of all against all" - in his book Leviathan. In such conditions, he famously said, our lives become “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”.

As a vaguely despondent optimist - I’m aware of the contradiction in terms, but isn’t modern life a contradiction in terms, so I’m happy to move with the times - I believe there are more Good Samaritans in this country than there are Ayn Rands. I believe most of us are empathetic, and if we can we’ll be kind.

If that’s true - if most of us are made of the stuff that would reach out to help those in danger - how must we as a nation respond to the current British Government? How must we respond to a Prime Minister - a multi-millionaire Prime Minister - who believed the Government should “just let people die” during a pandemic.

For that’s what we’ve learned from the UK Covid Inquiry. That fact - dark and hard, void of decency and humanity - came in a diary entry from the government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Boris Johnson was for “letting it all rip”, while his advisor Dominic Cummings was “arguing we need to save lives”.

Vallance wrote: “DC [Dominic Cummings] says ‘Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s ok’.”

Neil Mackay: Michael Matheson lied, he must go, it’s as simple as that

"Just let people die and that’s ok." Savour that phrase a moment. Swill it around, like a glass of good champagne at a Number 10 lockdown party. How’s it taste? How’s the mouth-feel? Has it got a good nose? Slip down well?

We also learned Johnson said that those who died “had a good innings”. Perhaps, we should write that on 231,692 headstones across Britain.

"Here lies my dead mum, she had a good innings."

"In memory of a much-loved grandpa, he had a good innings."

"RIP my wife, my husband, my father, my granny, my daughter, my son, my auntie, my uncle - they all had a bloody good innings."

It’s disgraceful enough to learn of the bumbling, shambling, anti-science idiocy of the Tory government during pandemic; of its venal corruption; its clunking, dull greed; its boastful public schoolboy arrogance.

The Herald: Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence to the UK Covid InquirySir Patrick Vallance giving evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry (Image: PA)

But to see, to hear, to watch the proof laid out before us that these people didn’t give a damn whether we lived or died goes far beyond corruption and failure, far beyond the notion of a government out of its depth. This is malice towards the people. This is sociopathy. This should be criminal.

How many people would the Tories have been happy to see die? What number would have mattered to them? Half a million? A million? Two million? All of us, except them?

I seldom use words like "monster" or "evil". Once they are deployed there’s nowhere else to go - you’ve consigned an individual to a category marked "the worst of us". But I’ve no other language with which to decorate the souls of Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and the men and women who collaborated with them and did not stop them.

These people are not fit to clean sewers. They should not be in power. Indeed, we should be frightened - for our lives - that they are in power.

The UK Covid Inquiry doesn’t have the authority to recommend criminal prosecutions. However, that doesn’t mean criminal prosecutions shouldn’t follow in its wake. If there’s a case of corporate manslaughter to answer, by those who had their hands on the levers of power at the moment of greatest threat this nation has faced in decades, then let justice run its course.

Evidently, the same goes for the Scottish Government - any damn government. Citizens are human beings, and human beings are not counters on an abacus. We are not here to be subjected to the whims of millionaires who feed off us.

Neil Mackay: Tories are a dying party pulling the country down with them

If this doesn’t fill you with rage, I’ve no idea what will. Those without anger must be conditioned to their destruction. Live a slave, die a slave.

By way of an ending, let’s return to Ayn Rand. She’d sneered at and tormented the principle of state intervention and welfare her entire adult life. In her final years, she died a lonely, old woman dependent upon social security and medicare.

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As the dark closed in and her philosophy floundered, perhaps, you imagine, she changed her ways.

At her funeral there was a floral arrangement, in the shape of a dollar sign. Even death cannot destroy cruelty, selfishness and greed.