The UK Covid inquiry has concluded its hearings in Edinburgh, leaving significant political and constitutional questions unanswered. The inquiry, led by Baroness Hallett, must now determine whether Scotland’s devolved powers aided or hindered its response to the pandemic. The inquiry also examined whether the UK government should have had the authority to make crucial public health decisions, such as implementing lockdowns, for the entire UK or Great Britain.
The inquiry heard evidence suggesting that the UK government could have invoked the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act to take control of public health decisions across the UK when the coronavirus first emerged. However, this idea is controversial as it would override the independent decision-making of devolved administrations during a national emergency.
The inquiry also highlighted issues with existing mechanisms for joint working between the UK government and devolved administrations, which were problematic even before the pandemic. The inquiry’s work was further complicated by the deletion of messages by key figures, including Nicola Sturgeon and Alister Jack, which would have been of interest to the inquiry.
Baroness Hallett now faces the challenging task of making recommendations that could significantly impact the ongoing debate about Scotland’s place within the UK.