AFTER all the sound and fury, what does it signify? Where are we after last week’s Covid inquiry hearings?

Firstly, an opinion that might be not be widely held and might not even be popular.

I have found myself resisting the temptation to join the unseemly pile-on into who deleted what and when.

I’m not comfortable with the idea that all conversations held by public officials, even on business, are public access. I’d even go so far as to say that elected representatives need a safe space to talk honestly – even if that means calling the Prime Minister “a f***ing clown”.

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You look at the pictures of JFK having a conversation with his brother Robert at the time of the Bay of Pigs – those discussions never saw the light of day either, and the long history of diplomacy is littered with people making sure that certain things are said when certain people have left the room. So I find the idea that every out-of-context utterance must be subject to public scrutiny a trifle dystopian, and I worry than anyone with an interest in standing for public office might think again in the light of the hostile questioning, particularly of Nicola Sturgeon, last week.

Who could blame them? But I worry that a generation of able people – not just politicians, but also the next Jason Leitch or Devi Sridhar – might be lost, and we’ll all be the poorer for it. When the next Wuhan happens, we’ll need our best people.

I’m keenly aware of the double standards at play here, not least in the obvious lack of outrage at Alister Jack’s breezy admission that he’d deleted his entire WhatsApp record, particularly when compared to the absolute meltdown over former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s admission that she’d deleted some, if not all, of the data. And as for using the pandemic as an opportunity to leverage an independence agenda, supporters of self-determination like me smiled wryly at her testimony that she’d put the campaign on hold – because in truth there never was a campaign worthy of the name in the first place. Indeed, of much more significance was Michael Gove’s assertion that, pandemic aside, “promoting and strengthening the union” was the UK Government’s top priority, particularly as Boris Johnson’s approval ratings of 25% at the time compared terribly with Nicola Sturgeon’s 75%.

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So an actual pro-Union campaign during a pandemic is seen as perfectly normal, the default position even, while a non-existent independence campaign during a pandemic is seen as beyond the pale. It’s just the most extraordinary hypocrisy, particularly given that support for independence consistently polls at 50% and higher. I mean, Scotland hasn’t voted for the Tories since the 1950s or Labour for a generation. Does that mean they’ve stopped arguing for Unionism? So why must independence supporters stop making the case for something – independence – that is now front and centre of Scotland’s national conversation to the extent that it is now decoupled from the fortunes of any political party?

And buried beneath faux outrage over deleted messages was something that was much more germane to the inquiry. Jeanne Freeman testified that she was frustrated that the limits of Scotland’s borrowing powers under the devolution settlement meant that she couldn’t pursue a furlough scheme until Westminster got itself in gear – a clear example of the narrow limits of devolution and a strong argument for the normality of self-governance.

But the biggest take-home after the inquiry hearings is that Westminster isn’t working for Scotland and that we need to follow our own path at the earliest opportunity.

Alec Ross