LAST weekend UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres delivered the 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture.

In the spirit of Mandela’s legacy of justice, dignity and equality, other prominent guests to have featured in this lecture series on tackling big issues and driving difficult debate include Barack Obama and former Irish president Mary Robinson.

This year, Guterres chose inequality as his topic. The world, he says, is at “breaking point” and he called for major reform of the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He challenged global governments to seize a “generational opportunity” to create a more equal and sustainable world, a better tomorrow, post Covid-19.

The news these past months has shown that rich countries riddled with self-interest have failed to step up to their responsibilities both at home and abroad. Only a fifth of the recommended £9 billion needed to help the world’s more fragile nations has been raised so far. Now, with more than 600,000 deaths across the world, the pandemic has shone an unforgiving spotlight on the collapse of global solidarity.

“Inequality starts at the top in global institutions; addressing inequality must start by reforming them,” according to Guterres. Coronavirus has revealed “the fractures in the fragile skeleton of the societies we have built”. He went on to list these fractures as the myth of free markets and healthcare for all, unvalued and underpaid care work, the “delusion” that we live in a post-racist world or that we are all “in the same boat”.

Guterres advocates “safety nets” of universal healthcare and Universal Basic Income (UBI) as important steps towards addressing these inequalities. His proposal for “a new social contract within societies (to) enable young people to live in dignity, (to) ensure women have the same prospects and opportunities as men, and (to) protect the sick, the vulnerable and minorities of all kinds” couldn’t come at a better time.

And it’s a model Scotland has been exploring with our limited powers for some time, although I note with growing concern that the Scottish Government’s new Special Advisory Group on Economic Recovery are not ready to take on board UBI as yet, despite the positive benefits as seen in the recent Finnish pilot and despite countries such as Spain rolling it out in a package of domestic measures to deal with the global health crisis. In May it was an idea whose time had come. By June even plans for a pilot were being scaled back.

New economic thinking, wellbeing, resilience and equality are words you won’t find in the lexicon of populist patriarchs and stokers of division like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Boris Johnson.

It’s hard to imagine any of these “me-me-me” leaders being able to understand the simplest forms of fairness and building better; it just doesn’t register in their grand self-centred plan. Johnson is more likely to suddenly issue a Section 30 Order for Scotland than introduce UBI for the people. This despite the double whammy of post-pandemic economic recovery combined with his Brexit “free market” wrecking ball.

As for Trump and Bolsonaro, they’re not exactly cheerleaders for the UN, with its forensic dissection of their greedy agenda and their abject failure to deal with the pandemic in their own countries, with death toll and infection rates both soaring in the US and Brazil. Meanwhile “world-beating” Boris and the UK are in the appalling position of 45,000 fatalities, the second worst death toll in the world adjusted for population size.

The UN was already off the Downing Street Christmas card list after they called out Tory austerity policy as creating “workhouse conditions” in the UK. After this latest withering assault, the UN may become the next target for the UK’s increasingly desperate diplomacy. The UK is now the “Johnny no mates” of international politics. Perhaps Johnson should arrange a trilateral with Trump and Bolsonaro.

It would seem that the UN is finally on to these charlatans. Guterres is no longer willing to temper his language or humour those who refuse to step up to his challenge. In fact, as the world spirals out of control, this lecture marks a continuing sharp departure from the usual, more cautious, approach taken by the UN.

His words cut straight to the heart of the problem – fragmentation of the pandemic approach and failure to adopt World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendations, leading to further casualties, plus gross wealth accumulation by the few to the detriment of the many. It’s the very antithesis of what can get us out of this mess – which is the global solidarity advocated by the secretary-general.

In a world gone mad it is a relief to hear the truth from someone in such a powerful position as an antidote to the “fake news” mentality of Trump and Johnson, gaslighting the electorate with lie upon lie upon lie.

Of course, words and lectures and speeches are not enough. Guterres is a realist as well as a man of great integrity. He also proposed recently that organisations like the WHO need more “teeth” to enforce their recommendations, strengthening robust mechanisms of global governance combined with international co-operation. This would enable pushback against the lazy and careless responses of countries like the United States, cavalier with both their own people’s safety and also that of the global community.

MEANWHILE, more progressive countries need to take action now. For instance, there is a disturbing graphic circulating on social media just now which shows three consecutive and ominous waves threatening to engulf the UK – the first and smallest wave is coronavirus, the second, larger wave is Brexit and the final wave, towering menacingly even over the first two, is climate change. There are four horsemen of the apocalypse, but these three are bad enough.

What we do right now in this moment is vital. Radical new ways of thinking and sharing resources can’t be put on the long arm. For example, initiatives like UBI are much more than a mere lefty pipe dream. Wellbeing isn’t just a nice word to use in talks and PR. When we say “build back better” that also means out with the old and in with the new, because these current systems are broken and failing everyone.

I want Scotland to be part of this new revolution in how we live, work and help each other. I want us to continue to show global solidarity, but up our own game and enact far-reaching change. It’s not just a matter of life or death, it’s about everyone having the chance of living well or many more dying badly.