THERE’S one very good reason not to write about Scottish Secretary Alister Jack and the evidence he gave last week to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. I suspect a character assassination in The National might be exactly what he was hoping to achieve. Certainly his priority wasn’t to assist with fact-finding and lesson-learning. He was there to play the role of villain, and he played it very well.

The media focused, understandably, on his comments about Nicola Sturgeon’s session earlier in the week, when she told the inquiry she had put aside her ultimate goal of Scottish independence when the pandemic struck, in order to focus on steering the country through the crisis.

It’s interesting that Jack opted to suggest the former first minister could produce tears on demand (indeed, “from one eye” if required), and had done so when reflecting on the undoubtedly traumatic experience of making life-and-death decisions. Didn’t he receive the Unionist memo asserting that, by the end of this five-hour session, the former first minister’s legacy was in tatters? Surely that would have given her plenty to cry about, with no theatrics required?

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Jack’s central accusation was that the Scottish Government had a tendency with each Covid restriction to “work out how they could do it slightly differently”, just for the sake of it. No-one has yet explained how exactly this strategy of “doing things differently just for the sake of it” was supposed to advance the cause of independence. Yes supporters in particular will be scratching their heads about how that was meant to work.

The clear implication of Jack’s comments is that all decisions taken by the UK Government about what would happen in England should have been viewed as the correct ones, with any deviation from them unjustifiable and suspect. To clarify, the decisions ultimately taken by a man described by his closest adviser as “a shopping trolley smashing between aisles” were the default.

Asked whether he had made any effort to understand why the Scottish Government took a different approach to certain Covid restrictions, the supercilious Jack was very clear: No. “I didn’t have to make any effort to understand ... I fully understood that it was being done to appear different to the UK Government.”

Curiously, his powers of omniscience deserted him in a discussion of the firebreak lockdown in Wales. He had to be reminded which year was under discussion, and have it explained to him why Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford was incensed at the Treasury’s refusal to extended furlough until England announced its own lockdown. “I don’t understand his position,” Jack shrugged, as if swatting away a buzzing fly.

It’s rich of Jack to accuse anyone else of putting on a show, then proceeding to oscillate between sneering contempt and feigned ignorance. The tactic of acting as if it’s beneath him to even try to grasp things is quite a cunning way to mask a limited intellect. That, plus the posh accent, might be enough to fool some listeners into believing his mind is on higher things, like “defending devolution”.

He might brag about having used Section 35 of the Scotland Act to block Holyrood’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill, but he’s never demonstrated any depth of knowledge of the policy issues that arose from it. Does he even read and understand the documents that are issued in his name? The mismatch between his written and oral evidence to this inquiry certainly calls that into question. His irrelevant digression into talk about an investment zone for Northern Ireland – an apparent admission that he breached the Ministerial Code – was certainly an interesting choice.

“When one government wants to destroy the United Kingdom and destroy devolution, then there are tensions,” Jack asserted dramatically, before conceding that he was a “champion of devolution” only in the sense that he doesn’t like the alternative.

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Perhaps we should be grateful to hear it acknowledged that the alternative is independence – rather than the rolling back of powers that Jack is clear he would like to see – but it’s a rather peculiar definition of “champion”. I wouldn’t call myself “a champion of bread” simply because I don’t like the idea of toast, when my preference would be to rip up the bread into little pieces and feed it to some pigeons.

Jack was forced to concede that one reason for tensions was the UK Government deliberately keeping the Scottish Government in the dark about what it was planning to announce. His defence for this? Sturgeon had previously announced changes at her daily briefing, rather than waiting for Boris Johnson to go first. This wasn’t “tit for tat” though, apparently – these tensions inevitably arise when dealing with someone with destructive ambitions.

Some might consider a threat to human lives more important than any threat to the Union, but the former wasn’t part of Jack’s remit. How lucky for him that he didn’t have to make those vital judgment calls, or even – by his own clear admission – try to understand what was happening, and why.