The Covid inquiry is sitting in Edinburgh on the Scottish leg of its U.K. tour, and what have they been putting in Baroness Hallett’s porridge? When the inquiry Chairwoman intervenes to question witnesses there’s a magnificent steeliness, tempered at times by playfulness, about her approach. This is a revelation for those of us who have criticised the hearings in London, where too often the inquiry team seems to assume wrongheadedly that the only problem with lockdown was that it wasn’t stricter.
On tour, they have acquired some real grit. Jamie Dawson KC, Counsel to the Inquiry in Scotland, has a precise, unflouncy style. Think Dr. Finlay making a citizen’s arrest. It makes for a welcome contrast to the somewhat theatrical style of Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel in London (think Nigel Havers mildly annoyed at receiving a parking ticket). Next week, Nicola Sturgeon is up before Hallett and Dawson, and I for one cannot wait.
Sturgeon has a great many questions to answer: about the deletion of evidence, the decision-making process over which she presided and her real aims in establishing a Covid policy that was so much more draconian — tougher curbs on movement, for longer.
The point, incredibly given this was a global pandemic, was to emphasise the contrast with supposedly dirty England and use the emergency as an opportunity to sow further division between the constituent parts of this United Kingdom. To use the disease to create a comparison between shambolic Boris Johnson, unpopular in Scotland, and St. Nicola. To present Scottish voters with such a contrast that they would decide to make the break. Documents revealed by the inquiry show Scottish ministers were discussing early in the pandemic how to exploit it to get the independence campaign going again. A senior official, Ken Thomson, scribbled “Indy is back” in his notes of meetings with senior ministers.
This is not to exonerate those in charge in Whitehall. All sorts of mistakes were made on both sides of the border. But the carefully constructed nationalist myth of the pandemic — that the Scottish Government under Sturgeon was handling the Covid emergency so much better than anywhere else in Britain, and certainly much better than the beastly English — is being exploded in these hearings.