THE UK Covid Inquiry hearings in Scotland have brought a raft of headlines focusing on politicians and the use and deletion of WhatsApp messages.

As politicians and civil servants appeared at the evidence sessions in Edinburgh, it was revealed former first minister Nicola Sturgeon branded Boris Johnson a “f****** clown”, while her successor Humza Yousaf branded former Scottish Labour MSP Neil Findlay an "a******e" and a "t**t".

Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch also came under scrutiny for comments made about politicians – including calling Labour MSP Daniel Johnson a “smart-arse”.

Meanwhile, the inquiry was shown a message from Nicola Sturgeon's former chief of staff Liz Lloyd in which she said she wanted a "good old-fashioned rammy" with the UK Government about furlough ending when the Scottish Government wanted to apply restrictions.

READ MORE: Covid-19 Inquiry Scotland: Can I watch and who is giving evidence?

With Sturgeon set to appear before the inquiry this week as the scrutiny on decision-making continues, there’s likely to be more focus on politicians to come.

But health and safety expert Professor Andrew Watterson, of the University of Stirling, cautioned that the attention paid to personalities and language rather than issues has not been “particularly illuminating”.

So what else could be learned about Scotland and how Covid was handled?

Stronger powers for Scotland

GIVING evidence to the inquiry, an expert in public health policy outlined how Scottish ministers were reluctant to impose a Covid lockdown earlier than March 23, 2020 because of concerns it would not be able to finance its own furlough.

Professor Paul Cairney said the Scottish Government’s position was that it “did not have the means to borrow that money to finance that activity”.

Watterson said that some people might argue that this is a reason for having a cross-UK position.

But he added: “My argument would be actually, it's an argument for strengthening the autonomy of the Scottish Government in terms of it having funds and having controls that were somewhat limited by the UK set-up.”

He added: “One would hope to see possibly stronger powers being allowed.”

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The impact of poverty

WATTERSON said one major issue which has been emerging is the impact of deprivation and poverty, which means the “most vulnerable groups are hardest hit by Covid".

He said: “We actually need to be looking at the picture beyond the specific viruses if we want to get a grip and have effective prevention and precautionary policies.

“So we've got to do more to address the issues of poverty - which will mean bad and crowded housing, transport problems and so on.

“All of those things were significant factors in terms of the incidence of Covid, its prevalence and in terms of mortality as well.

“Addressing those underpinning issues is something that we need to get to grips with.”

The role of hindsight … and foresight

THE inquiry has heard a “whole debate” about lockdowns from a range of contributors, Watterson said.

He said: “I think the consensus from them, independent of the politicians, is quite right - that in fact there could have been earlier action based on the information that we got.

“I think we probably are underestimating the complexity and the difficulty and clearly with hindsight, we can learn lots of things.

“But actually there was foresight available and I don't think they have explored that adequately in terms of what we knew - not necessarily about Covid as a virus, in that it was far more virulent and spread more quickly than many people had thought.

“But in terms of what we knew about the respiratory diseases and endemics and pandemics.

READ MORE: Covid Inquiry: Westminster 'undermined' Scotland's Covid restrictions

"So I think with foresight, there was information there, for instance, for the Scottish Government to look at improving ventilation more quickly than it did. I think there are still big issues there.”

The idea of ‘zero Covid’

GIVING evidence to the inquiry, Mark Woolhouse, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, suggested in summer 2020 that the Scottish Government did not accept Covid-19 was “here to stay” and that the idea of ending up “zero Covid” was not consistent with the evidence.

But Watterson argued the concept of “zero Covid” had been the right one to follow and was similar to the approach taken in trying to tackle road traffic fatalities.

“That doesn't mean that they think that nobody's going be killed or seriously injured on the road,” he said.

“But if you go around giving a number then it's actually silly and I think that it will damage credibility.

“So I think it was perfectly reasonable to say we're aiming to get the death rate as low as it is possible.”