Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry: Any 'lack of candour' from ministers must not be tolerated – Scotsman comment

UK Covid Inquiry has already uncovered evidence that is hugely embarrassing to the Westminster government

As the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry got underway yesterday, the first evidence underlined the seriousness of its task. Speaking on behalf of the Scottish Healthcare Workers’ Coalition, Andrew Webster KC urged the inquiry’s chair, Lord Brailsford, to “repay a nation’s indebtedness to these individuals by investigating and reporting with similar courage and volition as that shown by them as they faced the virus”.

We are sure the judge will be determined to do just that but, if he should need it, he has the ongoing UK Covid inquiry to act as a guide. After opening in June, it has already uncovered evidence that is highly embarrassing to the UK Government.

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For example, WhatsApp messages revealed that, in September 2020, Professor Dame Angela McLean, the government’s current principal scientific adviser, referred to Rishi Sunak as “Dr Death”, probably over his controversial Eat Out to Help Out scheme. Asked about the public impact of this attempt to boost the number of people going to restaurants after lockdown was lifted, she said: “To be honest, it made me angry.”

Earlier this year, an inquiry into a very different matter – delays and cost overruns in the construction of the new Edinburgh tram line’s first leg – finally submitted its report, nine years after it was set up. There are at least two lessons applicable to Scotland’s Covid inquiry. The first is that it cannot take anything like as long. The threat of another pandemic means we need to learn the lessons of this one quickly.

The second relates to tram inquiry chair Lord Hardie’s criticism of former Deputy's First Minister John Swinney’s “lack of candour” in relation to a particular conversation. Any minister, whether past or present, who plans to be anything other than full and frank with the Covid inquiry should think again. While it is unreasonable to expect that, in a fast-moving, complicated and life-threatening situation, mistakes would not be made, any failure to own up to them as the inquiry attempts to establish the facts would be utterly unacceptable, an unforgivable betrayal of the victims and those who risked their own lives to save others.

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