YESTERDAY, in an explosive revelation, the Sunday Herald exclusively revealed that the man at the helm when Carillion went down leaving a vast trail of human and financial destruction in its wake is one of David Mundell’s top advisers.

For the past three years, Wolverhampton-based Keith Cochrane has been working as a senior director both for the now-collapsed building giant and for the Scotland Office. He is also an advisory council member of These Islands, a pro-UK think tank — whose board also includes a dozen professors, a couple of TV historians and four retired Labour politicians including former Blairite minister Brian Wilson.

One of Cochrane’s political roles, it should be noted, is to advise the Scotland Office how to avoid a calamitous Brexit. You really could not make this up.

In the Sunday Herald article, I was intrigued to read a quote from Labour’s Jackie Baillie, insisting that “this revelation shows the need for a real review of how our public services are delivered.” As an MSP between 2003 and 2007, and the health spokesperson of the Scottish Socialist Party, I repeatedly asked questions of PFI. The response of Jackie Baillie, along with almost all her Labour and Lib Dem colleagues — with the honourable exception of John McAllion and perhaps one or two others — was to treat any scepticism with patronising contempt.

For decades, Labour did not just grudgingly tolerate PFI, but were fanatical evangelists for the scheme. Anyone who expressed criticism was accused of standing in the way of progress and trying to block new schools and other public projects. It was, in the words of the then UK Health Minister Alan Milburn, “PFI or bust” It was patent nonsense.

For generations, huge public projects had been driven and delivered by the public sector. Clean water supplies. Electricity to every household in Britain. The Royal Mail. Roads, bridges and ferries. Millions of council houses. Hospitals, schools, libraries and community centres in every town in Britain. But then suddenly, there was no money for public services — even though GDP was soaring to record highs, the stock exchanges were booming, the rich were piling up wealth like January snow in the Cairngorms and there was a bottomless pit of cash to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It all began under the John Major government. One of the first PFI schemes was the Skye Bridge, with the contract awarded to a consortium which comprised a Scottish construction company, a German engineering company and the Bank of America.

It should have cost £15 million — instead it cost £93.7m. That worked out at £187,000 per square metre, three times the cost of the 2017 Queensferry Crossing — a major feat of engineering — which carries 30 times more daily traffic than the Skye Bridge.

This should have spelled the end for the road for PFI — and to be fair, the Tories did quietly sideline the scheme. But then Labour came to power in 1997 and PFI turned into a runaway juggernaut, smashing down everything in its path. It was the ultimate triumph of neo-liberalism in the UK.

Sometimes it’s the small things that can illuminate the bigger picture. In the early 2000s, PFI hospitals essentially abolished day rooms, where patients would gather together to watch TV, and replaced them with slot machine TVs which generated profit for the privateers. This petty money grabbing also eroded the sense of community that characterised more traditional hospitals, where people would get together over a cup of tea and form friendships. It was entirely consistent with the New Labour ethos of neo-liberalism.

Best of all for the New Labour elite, it left the public bamboozled. It was smoke and mirrors. Few people understood what was going on. And as the Guardian columnist George Monbiot put it, “wherever you come across unnecessary complexity, you know that someone is being swindled”.

PFI removed accountability. Contracting, sub-contracting and sub-contracting again gave the cowboys plenty of cover. Nobody knew who was responsible for what. And the whole system opened the door to the forging of the kind of murky connections exposed in yesterday’s Sunday Herald.

POLITICS is about trust — which is why Scottish Labour has slumped to third place in Scotland, despite the party’s rising popularity south of the Border. It’s not about what you say when in opposition. It’s about what you do when you’re given power.

Labour is haunted by its own history. Its condemnation of PFI and privatisation will only have credibility when the party openly acknowledges this is the monster that they created and apologises for getting it so badly wrong. This is not just about setting the historical record straight — Labour’s past obsession with PFI is today costing Scotland’s public sector £1 billion a year. Only when the party takes political responsibility can it wipe the slate clean and criticise the SNP’s handling of public finances with any authority.

I suspect that won’t happen. Even if Richard Leonard wanted to do so, he wouldn’t be allowed to, because there are too many Labour politicians whose heart still lies in what they see as the good old days of Blairism. They have neither the courage nor the integrity to take responsibility for their past failures, and they won’t react too kindly to retrospective criticism on something so fundamental. Instead they’ll focus on what they think they do best — and that means blaming everything on the SNP.

The Scottish Government has tried to smooth off some of the rough edges and reduce some of the extravagant profiteering that took place under the previous Labour-Lib Dem administration. The debt that has been amassed by previous governments, together with the UK cap on borrowing and Westminster driven austerity budgets makes it difficult to extricate Holyrood entirely from private involvement in the public sector.

Their hands may be tied right now, but Carillion should be a stark warning to everyone. In principle, I would hope all the pro-independence parties will pledge to free Scotland’s public sector from private profiteers. That will probably require full independence — but let’s now start to set out a vision for a new nation that is prepared to break completely with the failed, short-sighted, irresponsible stewardship of our public services that for decades has been at the heart of UK dogma.