WE live in Scotland and when this is all over who will repair the breach? I use the phrase to draw attention to a new generation of moral leaders in America who are currently challenging Donald Trump’s erratic and self-centred presidency.

One of the major figures of this new moral movement is a Protestant minister and civil rights activist called the Reverend William Barber, a pastor in Goldsboro, North Carolina who follows in the great sermonising traditions of Dr Martin Luther King, the Reverend Jesse Jackson and Aretha Franklin’s father the Reverend CL Franklin.

Rather than hide behind his pulpit, Barber takes to the streets and the workplaces of the southern states advocating radical change in society. Suffering spondylitis, his distinctive bent back and hunched shoulders disguise a big thinker and determined personality. He has seized on an argument, attributable to Martin Luther King, that unless America experienced a “radical revolution of values” it would be engulfed by spiritual decline.

All societies, including Scotland’s, at some stage in their evolution come to this crossroads, where there is no longer time or room for prevarication and we have to decide what path to walk down.

Barber and his Repairing The Breach movement see the current world crisis as a moment of significant opportunity for change. “Pandemics spread and exploit the fissures of society,” he recently said of Covid-19 “and the United States has many, many wounds, open wounds from our structural racism, the criminalisation of poverty and the refusal to address poverty. And those realities made us more susceptible to the spread of this pandemic.”

Barber’s big idea – who will repair the breach? – might equally be asked of Scotland after the pandemic. At a moral level he is asking a question that has regularly been posed by Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh, whose book Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out Of Ethics (2000) searched for a deeper purpose for a society witnessing the decline of conventional Christianity. Equally, the Repair The Breach movement often speaks as if it is has taken angry inspiration from Darren “Loki” McGarvey’s Poverty Safari, which places economic marginalisation at the core of our social problems.

Like the more urban and youth orientated Black Lives Matter campaign, the Repairing The Breach movement stands squarely against racism. It is a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to build an agenda rooted in moral constitutional values. The term “repairer of the breach” has its origins in the Bible, in Isiah 58:12, which states: “And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.”

The movement took root in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when poorer areas of New Orleans were devastated after the city’s levees were breached by floods during the tropical cyclone. Like the Covid-19 pandemic, poor and African American people were disproportionately harmed when the levees were breached.

Like Martin Luther King before him, Barber sees his Christianity as a permission to change society. “We challenge the position that the pre-eminent moral issues are prayer in public schools, abortion, and property rights. Instead, we declare that the moral public concerns of our faith traditions are how our society treats the poor, women, LGBTQ people, children, workers, immigrants, communities of colour and the sick. Our deepest moral traditions point to equal protection under the law, the desire for peace within and among nations, the dignity of all people, and the responsibility to care for our common home.”

It is a message that touches on the all-consuming politics of the Common Weal group in Scotland, and the hopeful aspirations of spiritual people from all the many faiths that have been drawn to the independence movement.

I am not religious. Despite a denominational past in the Catholic church, my main conviction is social change not devout attention to the catechism. I have early memories of seeing the anti-Polaris demonstrations in Scotland and the Aldermaston marches in England and being fascinated that it was ministers and priests leading the marches and risking arrest.

As a restless teenager I joined the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, keen to receive the trendy and iconic black-and-white members’ badge which came through my letter box with a mimeographed letter from the CND chairman, Canon John Collins, and the group’s president, the philosopher Bertrand Russell. They advocated an amazingly simple argument that nuclear armaments were morally irresponsible and, like Barber’s movement in America, believed that social change was not always about right versus left. Sometimes it was better cast as right versus wrong.

Something about the Repairers Of The Breach fascinates me. Using the language of the pandemic, Barber talks of our society and its four viruses: racism, poverty, environmental devastation and the war economy.

We have to face facts. The Conservative party will not be reborn. They will retreat to type and anyone who imagines that they will slow down or even reverse the pace of Brexit is dreaming.

I have no faith that the current UK Government will tackle the four viruses, in part because they knowingly spread them. When this is all over, the Tories will not abandon their obsession with the free market, they will not turn against the tax avoiders in their midst nor will they legislate against hedge fund managers, city spivs and the rapacious practices of multinationals.

They will not cut back on military spending nor will they learn from Grenfell and transform the lives of people in tower blocks. Rest assured that their newfound love of a publicly funded health service will last as long as a minute’s applause or a profit warning.

Scotland will come out of this with even starker choices – to stay handcuffed to a political party we have not voted for, or to make the break.

Scotland will have to reflect on how it is governed, too. There have been tragic deaths and ingrained failures in the care-home sector, and the Scottish Government must own a portion of the blame, but let us never forget that the big issue is the underlying ideology of social care. In 1993 as much as 95% of care homes were provided by councils and the public sector until two successive Conservative governments changed the game and embraced privatisation, while council budgets were slashed.

Now the statistics have reversed; around 95% of beds are provided by the independent sector. The profit motive and large-scale outsourcing since the early 1990s under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major is the root cause of a problem that has now washed up on Scotland’s shores. Scottish governments under Labour and more recently the SNP have tried to resist the hurricane of privatisation but with only limited success.

With our ageing population, rebuilding our care system will be a major moral issue of our times. That needs vastly different approaches to taxation that no Conservative government will ever contemplate. The broad shoulders of the Union have been found wanting. The ‘‘special relationship’’ with America is now an international joke.

There can be no doubt when this pandemic is over Scotland’s economy will have been breached as if a cyclone has ripped through our lives. But we are not alone; every major economy in the world will be profoundly damaged. All those things that only a few months ago were taken for granted – air travel, holidays abroad, burgeoning supermarkets, two-car families, crowded bars and restaurants and mass public gatherings to watch football, rock bands and comedians – will be in retreat.

Things will change and change forever. Who will be there to repair the breach? The honest answer ... we will?