Covid-19 no longer dominates daily life, but it remains a divisive topic, as the ongoing Scottish public inquiry will no doubt testify. And the virus is still with us. Scotland’s national clinical director Jason Leitch is not alone in warning of an impending grim winter.

Yet for all the controversy, for all the agonising, for all the clapping for carers and talk of “solidarity”, have we learn any lessons about politics from the pandemic? Or have we, weirdly, restored some of the worst of pre-Covid normality?

We are absolutely, collectively, more conscious nowadays of how illness spreads, how disease works and how populations’ behaviour works to spread or contain them. On a personal level, I am constantly conscious of infection because I’m surrounded by it. Since my daughter has started nursery, our home is a bazaar of viruses and infections, some of which – chicken pox, hand, foot and mouth, conjunctivitis – sound like they belong in the Victorian era or in a barnyard.

The upside is that her immune system is getting stronger and stronger; the downside is that I succumb to whatever germs the wee grubber has shoved in her mouth. So, when I heard that Covid cases were on an upswing, I felt the dread in my stomach: looking after a sick baby when you’re sick yourself is no fun at all.

Not subscribed? Get the most from The Herald with our subscription deals

However, with Covid, questions of health quickly become political. To mask or not, to vaccinate or not, to observe or violate lockdowns – all of these things became markers of virtue for competing sides of the cultural war. Much of the world has more or less made peace with these questions. But in America, those furies remain implanted in the nation’s political soul.

Here in Britain, the politics of Covid are more prosaic, but I think arguably more dangerous. After all the talk of loving our NHS, our post-Covid reality is a cross-party consensus for cutbacks and privatisation.

Much of the public sector, particularly the NHS, never really returned to “normal” operations. Face to face appointments are scarce, backlogs are vast and services are crippled by penny-pinching protocols.

And despite the high-minded talk of national solidarity – remember 2020, and all that clapping out the window? – well, nobody is marching for the nurses. The public are exhausted, the elites are winning. Not just in the Tories either: the Wes Streetings of the world have rampaged through Labour, virtually unchallenged. The Scottish independence movement, in parliament or on the streets, is a shadow of what it was before the pandemic.

It’s a great example of how the ruling order never let a good crisis go to waste. For all the hopes of a new culture of solidarity, the real story of Britain’s pandemic was profiteering, plundering and the restoration of a political consensus that should have died a decade ago.

What went wrong? It’s easy to point the finger at politicians and plutocrats, but they will do what they do to advance their interests. This is one of those moments where I understand people’s righteous rage, but I know in my soul that anger is destructive: fury won’t stop the same mistakes next time.

Leftists in the UK, who self-consciously present themselves as protecting the vulnerable, the innocent and the poor, had a bad pandemic. They never got to grips with the epidemiology or the politics, and instead obsessed over questions of inter-personal protocol.

READ MORE: Cat Boyd: I'm a socialist and believe in independence

Utopian promises of a perpetual lockdown to achieve “zero Covid” were a distraction from the big business and political interests at play. With so little intellectual purchase, it’s no wonder that the groups those on the left are supposed to represent – from workers to ethnic minorities – have been hammered in the aftermath.

Lockdown should never have been conceived as an end goal or a sign of virtue. The fact that it was necessary – and, in my view, it unfortunately was – is itself a damning indictment of the “hollowing out” of state capacity after a decade of austerity.

The chaos of 2020, suggests Dr Ewan Kerr, researcher on ENDURE, a transnational project examining the politics of Covid, was a consequence of “underinvestment, deregulation and privatisation of public services and state functions”.

Underlying that was a type of dysfunctional government whose “capacity to mobilise resources has been redirected to focus upon ‘steering’ society in a more regulatory as opposed to interventionist role.”

The UK isn’t alone in these dysfunctions: far from it. The idea that we are the worst in the world has itself become a peculiar type of national myth-making, an arrogance and introversion. Nonetheless, our constitutional deadlock does offer a good illustration of how government has changed for the worse.

For some time, the conventional narrative held that Nicola Sturgeon had a great pandemic, and that her superior communication skills illustrated the superior moral values of Scotland as a nation.

Many went along with this. Partly because Sturgeon was, without question, better at communicating public health advice than Boris Johnston. Partly, and more insidiously, because glowing write-ups for devolution in the London Review of Books and the New York Times gave (particularly) the Scottish middle class a booster shot of uncritical patriotic pride.

READ MORE: Red Clydesiders wouldn't recognise paternalism of Left today

Nowadays – witness the public inquiry – reactions are more circumspect. Erstwhile Sturgeon cheerleaders are critical, sometimes viciously so.

Yet the problem here was never Sturgeon, but a dysfunctional set of constitutional relationships that encouraged nationalism and division without any attendant prospect of payoff, far less accountability for solving the deeper problems. Sturgeon was always a symptom of an immature Scottish middle class who wanted moral superiority without the responsibility.

The pandemic was thus the peak of a post-Braveheart, post-Trainspotting type of professional middle-class feelgood Scottish mythology, encouraged by dysfunctional relationships of government.

Now we contemplate the aftermath: new inequalities of income and wealth. New avenues for interpersonal division over mask-wearing and vaccinations. New reservoirs of loneliness and alienation. It’s a far cry from the high hopes for a new settlement. Ruling elites never let a good crisis go to waste; sadly, we did, and everyone is paying the price.