ALTHOUGH it has been partly overshadowed by the war in Gaza the independent public inquiry into the Covid pandemic is proving to be a revelatory affair.

Although its main intention is to examine the impact of the pandemic on health services and public procurement, a mask is slipping and the events of last Monday have exposed huge gaps in the provision of a devolved political culture in the UK. ­Scotland’s own inquiry is prising that gap open even further.

The testimonies of Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester who accused the entire response to the pandemic of being “London-centric”, and Sadiq Khan (below), the mayor of London, who admitted to being locked out of emergency Cobra meetings, and “kept in the dark” have underlined one of the major problems with devolution – it needs a government committed to making it work.

The National: Sadiq Khan called for a better-resourced public awareness campaign to reach voters most affected by the changes (Danny Lawson/PA)

Khan’s devolved responsibilities were all but ignored and so, his knowledge of ­major areas of contagion like public transport systems went unheard. He spoke eloquently of the early evidence of viral spread within diverse working-class households where overcrowding was a factor.

Add to this scenario, the barriers that were put up preventing the now former first minister from fully participating and you can see a pattern of obsessive ­centralisation, ill-suited to troubled times and not fit for the wider purposes of ­governing the UK.

It is now hilarious to reflect on ­Dominic Cummings’s comments, when he accused Nicola Sturgeon of “babbling”, when it was abundantly clear to most ­reasonable people that she was a more ­cautious ­analyst of the pandemic and a much better ­communicator than the ludicrous Boris Johnson.

The National: Former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings arrives to give a statement to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry (James Manning/PA)

Lest we forget, Johnson had advocated injecting a woman on live television to prove the virus was not serious and that in any case, Covid-19 could be cured by pointing a hairdryer up your nose.

Only the unhinged Donald Trump ­upstaged Johnson, advocating Americans swig bleach as a cure. A health adviser who was sharing a platform with Trump on the night hung her head in disbelief.

Burnham’s testimony was instructive too. I had not known until he gave his ­testimony that Manchester is twinned with Wuhan and that the city’s sizeable Chinese community had alerted him at emergency community meetings to the health problems at the epicentre of the virus.

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There was a further irony. Charities in the north west of England worked with the Chinese community to fund and ­acquire PPE equipment months before the now disgraced “fast-track” system that the Conservative Party greased for their pals and allowed Michelle Mone and her ­husband to exploit a public emergency.

Burnham’s testimony talks about one of the central failures of the British devolution system. In a scathing response, he described his experience as being “petty, vindictive and what we suspected all along – Greater Manchester was punished for having a voice”.

Still smarting after the abandonment of the Manchester leg of the HS2 fast train service, Burnham must surely ­realise what many Scots have known for ­decades that challenging the centre risks ­alienation or a political backlash.

Devolution is principally imagined as London discharging some public ­functions to the nations and regions, ­never – God forfend – a return path, in which London learns from the faraway towns.

Knowledge transfer should be at the heart of the devolved UK, but the ­unwritten presumption is that only flows from London outwards.

My own experience of watching the coronavirus crisis unfold in Scotland was that inevitably mistakes would be made – unprotected care homes being the most tragic, risk to small businesses another – but throughout the crisis, I felt ­well-informed in part because talented communicators were put into bat.

Professor Linda Bauld, the co-director of the Centre for Population Health ­Sciences within the Usher Institute and Dr Devi Sridhar, professor and chair of Global Public Health at Edinburgh ­University were regularly on television and brought informed caution to ­sometimes noisy ­public discourse.

Whether you admire Nicola Sturgeon or not, as a nation, we had a greater grasp of reality and were given a ­consistent ­message about following health ­guidelines.

The National:

Even if political communication with London was often erratic, we had the virtue of daily updates and the broadcast benefits of an opt-out television network through BBC Scotland.

Like many I was bewildered – nay, ­beelin – when the service switched to the more shambolic Johnson in London or worse still to live panel discussions ­populated by commentators who were often ideologically hostile to the Scottish Government.

Covid should have been the devolved ­government’s finest moment. But it was not. Liverpool City Region mayor Steve Rotheram spoke of a fundamental ­breakdown of communication between Downing Street and Liverpool, ­adding that he endured death threats when ­Liverpool was plunged back into Tier Three restrictions.

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“There were far too many people, ­certainly low-paid jobs in the Liverpool City Region where people were faced with a ‘sword of Damocles’ decision,” Rotheram told the inquiry. “If they felt like they might have had symptoms, they were choosing whether to stay at home and get no pounds, no pence, or to take the chance that they didn’t have Covid and go to work. I think that was a terrible decision to put anybody in.”

IF you remember the 1976 sitcom The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin, you will be familiar with an old visual gag, in which Reggie sees an image of a ­hippopotamus wallowing in mud every time his mother-in-law is mentioned. I confess to a similar phenomenon when the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Michael Gove, appears on television, a vision of a slithering low-bellied snake springs effortlessly to mind.

Gove is a repellent character. Rather than answer questions from the ­presiding KCs, he challenged the status of the ­questions, showed arrant contempt for devolved bodies – especially the Scottish Government – and like so many of his failed party, imagined he was the cleverest guy in the room.

Never has a Cabinet-level politician ­preformed so gracelessly in the eye of an important public inquiry.

Devolution has been kicked and bruised all week by failed politicians – the big ­English regional cities took a ­battering – but the real contempt was reserved for Scotland.

The time has come for Scots to ­reassess how long devolution can last and what the next phase of our constitutional ­journey should be.

This is an easy question for those who support independence – less so for the many thousands of Scots who instinctively support the Labour Party and are already relishing their revival in the polls.

Labour have every reason to take pride in devolution and in the establishment of the Scottish Parliament, but watching two of their most high-profile members, Khan, the mayor of London and Burnham, the mayor of Manchester recounting how they were marginalised in the face of a public health emergency must give the thinking and caring rump of Labour ­supporters food for thought.

It is now being laid bare that this was not a case of Scotland failing to align with London, it was about an arrogant and out-of-control Tory Cabinet showing open contempt for some of the most populous parts of the UK.

The Covid Inquiry has not only exposed failures at the heart of an uncaring government it has unveiled their contempt for devolved power and listening to distant voices.

An elected Labour government may be able to change that attitude, but it will take huge shifts in centralised power to resuscitate one of Labour’s fondest babies – devolution.

Meanwhile, as Burnham surveys the north west’s neglected infrastructure, even he must acknowledge that ­Scotland has another choice.