Public health expert Devi Sridhar, in her new book, Preventable, observes that that the pandemic has revealed who we really are, our own values and those of others – in other words what we stand for. Interviewed in tomorrow's Herald, she also describes, how the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, gained her admiration over the Covid-19 crisis.

Sridhar didn’t know the First Minister before the pandemic, but, she says, came to “really like her”. “I think," she adds, "it's because she always wanted from me the direct, blunt analysis that I had. She didn't want to hear sugarcoating. She didn't want spin on it. She was really like, ‘What do you think?’ Or, ‘What is Hong Kong doing?’ Or, ‘What do you think about the United States position on this?’ And I would just say it and then kind of put the analysis behind it and offer the logic.”

“I found in my interactions with her, she wanted to do the right thing. I think she very much wanted to protect life. And she understood the cost of restrictions to the economy, so it had to be proportional. What you were doing was proportional to the risks associated with what spread. I feel quite lucky that we had a leader who wanted that kind of direct expert input on different things. There was never an idea of, ‘Tell me what I want to hear it was quite the opposite.’”

Sridhar, who is the Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, describes how the pandemic delivered her a sudden explosure to the vitriolic politics around independence. “I learned," she says, "that anything you say positive about Scotland becomes a sound bite for Scottish independence. If you say anything positive about Nicola Sturgeon, even if you're just talking about her as an individual or as a politician, that's seen as pro independence. The bizarre thing is people in England in polls really like her, and it's not like they are for Scottish independence. So you can admire a person and their qualities without necessarily aligning with their politics.”

Sridhar adds, "I think she is quite a remarkable leader and she did want to do the right thing at each point and takes her job very seriously. She's a hardworking person. She didn't take a holiday, I think, for the first year and a half because was doing the daily press briefings and trying to explain very complex things every day. So how can you not respect someone like that through a crisis, regardless of their political party or affiliation?"

She also reflects on how Scotland was unable to chart its own path through the pandemic. “Health is devolved,” she summarises, “education is devolved. But other things are reserved, so you kind of do some stuff, but can't do other stuff. So when our rates are going up, and we're thinking, Oh, we really need to shut, let's say, nightclubs or bars. You can't just do that if you can't provide furlough or economic support. You're condemning people to impoverishment, right?”

A “lost moment” was, she says, “the summer of 2020”. “We had this really difficult lockdown. We got numbers negligible. And there was the idea of vaccines hopefully arriving by Christmas. So the question should have been, how do we seal off and kind of protect those gains until we can vaccinate widely? But Scotland couldn't control tourism in and out of the country, travel in and out the country. And we know that from the sequencing work and the papers done that the first strains were largely eliminated. And that we reimported and got new strains through holiday travel.”

A few months of no international travel, or very limited international travel, she believes, would have made a great deal of difference in terms of the deaths that following winter. “How many of those deaths were preventable had we taken different policy options? As I say in the book, for Scotland to be an island. I think every place wanted to be an island.”

What is also clear in the interview is that she has little regard for the conduct of UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. Amongst her complaints is that, early on, he missed “so many, many” COBRA meetings. ”Your job, if you're going to be Prime Minister is show up to the meetings.” She was also horrified to see the example he set, when, she says, he was in a Covid hospital shaking the hands of everybody some of whom had Covid.

“But I think now,” she observes, “what’s really painful is the parties, to learn it all happened when so many people weren't able to be there funerals and weren't able to be there at the birth of their child. People make enormous sacrifices. And the idea that leadership didn't make similar sacrifices is quite a difficult one.”

For the full interview with Devi Sridhar buy the Herald or read online tomorrow