“THE story of Covid in Scotland is the story of the hubris of Nicola Sturgeon, is it not?”

That was the final question which Jamie Dawson KC asked Nicola Sturgeon as she gave evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry on Wednesday.

Sturgeon fought back tears – and not for the first time in the session – as she rejected the assertion in the question.

“I wish with every fibre of my being that the decisions my government had been able to take could have reduced the number of people in Scotland who did lose someone to Covid,” she said.

Because the story of Covid in Scotland is a deeply human one, and it cannot ever be reduced to one politician’s “hubris”. 

This completely ignores the role others across the length and breadth of Scotland played in the pandemic. Of course, it also ignores the major role played by the UK Government – and the undeniable yet inexplicable hubris of then prime minister Boris Johnson.

The shadows of Westminster and devolution were cast even over Sturgeon’s response to Dawson’s final question, when she referenced the decisions the Scottish Government had “been able to take”.

There were countless others that they simply could not take, because the UK had chosen a different path.

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This divergence of UK and Scottish decisions came up time and again, with Sturgeon pushed on whether she had chosen to differentiate from the UK Government for the sake of it. Or, worse, for the sake of political advantage.

Responding, the former first minister pointed out that the “divergence” which Dawson kept ascribing to Scotland was actually a divergence on the part of the central government in London. While Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish leaders chose one path, the Tories at Westminster chose another.

The point is that, in 2020, the UK Government was not taking the virus as seriously as many thought it should. Divergence from that was surely beneficial to tackling the pandemic?

The Tories’ laissez-faire attitude to Covid – exemplified by the Johnson quote: “Let the bodies pile high” – really was common knowledge at the time. But it seems to have been forgotten at the Covid Inquiry.

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One email shown at Sturgeon's hearing, which the Scottish Tories have since labelled “explosive”, made it clear that England was seen as the outlier on a wider stage than even the UK.

“There is visible action from the Spanish authorities to do whatever it takes to suppress outbreaks (compare and contrast with outbreaks in England),” a Scots government civil servant wrote in July 2020.

Unsurprisingly, this lack of action in England against the virus was not what outraged the Tories. That came next.

The National:

The email stated: “It won't matter how much ministers might justify it on health grounds, the Spanish government will conclude [that removing them from the exemption travel list] is entirely political; they won't forget; there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has claimed the email demonstrates that the SNP’s “independence obsession” was behind its decision-making. He, typically, seems to have misunderstood.

The email actually states that Scottish ministers were pushing for the move “on health grounds”, but there were concerns their Spanish counterparts would see it as political.

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Misreadings and misrepresentations have been something of the order of the day during evidence sessions as the Covid Inquiry in Scotland.

A key one came up as Dawson asked about “burner phones” purchased by Sturgeon and then health secretary Jeane Freeman at the start of the pandemic.

The story, which appeared in the Unionist press on Tuesday evening, had been shared on social media by the likes of Tory MSP Murdo Fraser.

As it turns out, those phones were not so Freeman and Sturgeon could have secret chats on Nokia 3310s like the old days. They were for constituency staff to work from home due to the Covid pandemic.

Who else is on the list of MSPs that purchased one but, of course, Murdo Fraser.

This is to be expected from the Tories and their lackeys, but should it really appear at the UK Covid Inquiry? Especially given that it had been debunked long before Sturgeon took the stand.

Did Dawson not have his questions prepared before Tuesday evening? Or did he drop one which he decided wasn’t as important as raising a ramshackle hit piece from an opposition newspaper?

Whatever the case may be, Dawson was obviously happy with his final question implying that the story of Covid in Scotland was the story of “the hubris of Nicola Sturgeon”.

Hopefully, the Covid Inquiry’s conclusions will be more realistic, and remind us all that the true story of the pandemic is about far more than that.