THE last ten days or so have been dispiriting ones for those who still think that we have a fair and equal society in Scotland. The Sutton Report into university access in Scotland described the attainment gap in this country as “shocking”: young Scots from our most disadvantaged areas are four times less likely to go to university than those from wealthy backgrounds. This was followed by the published findings of the Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy which showed that at crucial stages of a child’s education in Scotland, those from our poorest communities performed much worse than those from more affluent neighbourhoods. By an accident of birth these children have reduced chances of fulfilling their natural potential and Scotland, abjectly, has done absolutely nothing to level the playing field for them.

Yesterday we discovered one of the principal reasons why. In research commissioned by our sister paper, The Herald, it was revealed that MSPs are now five times more likely than the average Scot to be educated at a fee-paying school. Around four per cent of Scots have had the purchased privileges of an education at one of these facilities, yet fully 20 per cent of our elected representatives attended one.

How are we supposed to tackle the causes of health and educational inequality when the chamber to which we entrust the means of doing so is itself a bastion of unearned advantage? Next week Nicola Sturgeon and the government that she leads will host an education summit with the laudable aim of seeking ways at bridging attainment and widening access to university to include children from all backgrounds in Scotland. I have my doubts that this will constitute more than a glorified workshop in hand-wringing and noble-sounding flights of fancy, but I hope I’m wrong.

The devolved arrangements have been in place now for 17 years, during which time we have elected only liberal and left-of-centre parties to represent us. When it has been the turn of each to govern they have all signalled their intent to create a more equal and fairer Scotland. So often has this phrase been used that the use of ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ has been rendered almost meaningless.

Finding the key to unravelling this pattern of inequality will be the sacred task of the current Holyrood administration. Nicola Sturgeon has admitted as much herself and I have no doubt that she is in earnest about it and that she won’t require to be pushed from office if she fails to make demonstrable progress.

It’s also worth reminding ourselves why the task of addressing the innate unfairness that we permit to distort the essence of Scotland is crucial to our development as an enlightened and modern country where everyone has an equal chance of fulfilling the gifts with which each of us was born. We need to do this because the Scarecrow Right in this country would have us believe that a form of natural selection exists in the world. From this flows the belief that only a pre-ordained elite has been born to rule and to gather wealth and that they must be trusted simply to get on with it. It is the law of the jungle. Competition and the free market which begets it are alone deemed to be the final arbiters of our systems of government; the better for money to flow where it will unencumbered. Yet this is the opposite of competition and begets incompetence, corruption and neglect.

A healthy and vibrant Scotland needs its doctors, lawyers, judges, CEOs and politicians to have reached their positions fairly, on a level playing field and enjoying no artificial advantage. We will never have the best in these most influential positions so long as we restrict the pathways into these professions to a tiny, cosseted few. We need the gene pool from which these lifeline professions are drawn to be as wide and as deep as possible.

Yet, as things stand, we are effectively saying that those who are born into poverty and social exclusion in Easterhouse, Possilpark, Pilton and Lochee are somehow minus any of the talents and gifts required for leadership and achievement in our most important professions. This is a denial of the law of natural selection from which the Tories and their backers derive their day-to-day philosophy.

Let me define this further. The people chosen to command our armed forces are almost exclusively drawn from a limited cadre of fee-paying schools and British ruling families and have been for many generations. We entrust decisions affecting the lives of some of our bravest and finest fighting men and women and the defence of our country to this restricted, gilded elite. These people are chosen not because they were all born with gifts of leadership in the field or a higher strategic acumen but because they were deemed to be the right sort.

While some of the decisions made by British generals have been inspired, so many more have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions of foot-soldiers in theatres of war including Jutland, the Somme, Gallipoli, Afghanistan and the Iraq wars. The governments which have given these dangerous fools free range to practise their idiocy are disproportionately influenced by the old school tie that they all share. Consequently, there is no scrutiny and no one is held to account. Instead, we shot shell-shocked privates for desertion and now discharge them dishonourably.

In peacetime who knows how much money has been squandered; opportunities lost and justice denied because the same Right Sort were over-represented in our most crucial positions of governance and leadership? Wars and the 2008 worldwide credit crunch are merely the two most salient examples.

Last week, in an article for The Times, I interviewed the head teacher of a Glasgow secondary school which serves some of this city’s most disadvantaged neighbourhoods. This man pointed to the “invisible discriminators” which diminished the chances of his brightest pupils fulfilling their potential. These ranged from being denied internships at big city private practices to large fees for CAT exams to universities routinely deploying artificially high entry qualification levels as a means of filtering out pupils from deprived backgrounds.

Affirmative action is required to restore balance in Scottish society even if it means discriminating against the few who have had it all their own way for too long in favour of the many.