I remember back in the early days of the Covid pandemic that, from certain quarters, some commentators believed Scottish democracy should be scrapped. That our parliament should simply be dissolved in the name of national unity as the country battled a virus we knew little about. That, in the national interest, we should return to some form of war-time cabinet where power was centralised and the pandemic response coordinated fully from No10 with Boris Johnson at the centre.

Now, of course, such ideas were farcical and, thankfully, rebuffed if not laughably derided. Knowing what we now know about the unmitigated chaos emanating from No10, it’s no laughing matter.

Lessons must be learned. People must be held accountable. As the UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry gets underway in Edinburgh this week, the STUC alongside the TUC is preparing to give an insight into the experiences of our relationship with government – both Scottish and UK – and how they responded to the demands of workers during the pandemic.

On Wednesday, I will be called as a witness to reflect on how the Scottish Government engaged with trade unions and, by extension, whether they listened to workers.

It gets slightly convoluted here but please bear with me: there are two Covid-19 public inquiries on the go. The Scottish Inquiry, which is currently paused to allow the UK Inquiry to hold their sessions in Edinburgh as they, quite rightly, take their investigations around the whole of the UK.

The Herald: Boris Johnson was in charge of the UK government's Covid responseBoris Johnson was in charge of the UK government's Covid response (Image: free)

As the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry got underway last year, I had previously written that workers were ‘thrown to the wolves’ during the pandemic. I absolutely stand by that. I also said that, for now, we should leave the politics at the door and focus on the experiences of workers.

Whilst we will unashamedly focus our comments on workers’ experiences, it is now entirely unavoidable to avoid this getting political.

This session of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry focuses on Scottish Government’s decision-making during the pandemic – how did they get their information, what evidence did they rely on and who did they listen to.

It's undeniable that we had robust, quite often heated discussions with the Scottish Government during the pandemic. We found ourselves in disagreement. We also found ourselves in opposition. From our belief that the Scottish Government closed schools too late and re-opened them too early, to the baffling if not selfish decisions from some employers to remain open, brought on in part by a lack of clear guidance from governments.

READ MORE: Scottish Covid Inquiry: What have we learned so far?

By that same token, it is also undeniable that, in comparison to our TUC counterparts and their relationship with the UK Government during the pandemic, our relationship with government, politicians and civil servants was markedly different.

Any government worth its salt governs for all, especially in times of national crisis. Being blinded by political dogma doesn’t serve well the population you seek to represent. The approach of the Scottish Government to consultation was, on balance, meaningful and conducted with respect. The approach of Boris Johnson was, to quote the man himself: “can’t have the bollocks of consulting with employees and trade unions”

This was the attitude that permeated throughout the UK Government. That, alongside the virus, trade unions – those standing up for workers in the face of a ravaging disease – were the people to be resisted.

Let’s analyse the decision to implement face masks in schools. According to Simon Case, the then Downing Street Permanent Secretary, face masks had been recommended "weeks ago" but "Because at that stage it was unions pressing for masks", the Secretary of State for Education was in "no-surrender mode and didn’t want to give an inch to the unions so said we should hold firm".

UK Government ministers were so enraged – so blinded by their own political ideology – that they would rather put workers in danger than listen to the trade unions trying to stand up for them.

It wasn’t us, therefore, making the pandemic political. It was the Tory UK Government.

That’s not to say the Scottish Government doesn’t have serious and vital questions to answer about their approach to the pandemic. They do. We will absolutely hold them to account on PPE shortages, on a lack of pandemic planning and on the initial hesitation in closing non-vital businesses and workplaces, unnecessarily putting workers at risk.

The Herald: Protesters at the UK Covid inquiryProtesters at the UK Covid inquiry (Image: free)

But valuing and incorporating the role of our movement in the decision-making process, undoubtedly, led to a positive impact in a range of areas and a far more measured and controlled form of governance.

Working with the STUC to draft the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Fair Work statement, in addition to a range of other guidance, gave workers in Scotland protection against employers who sought to exploit them.

Having direct access to government ministers in weekly meetings to relay the concerns of unions was vital. From health and social care staff too afraid to self-isolate because they literally couldn’t afford to live on the derisory levels of Statutory Sick Pay, to our creative unions relaying that freelancers and the self-employed were being failed by UK Government support.

This access brought results. The Cabinet Secretary for Health announced enhanced sick pay for social care staff in Scotland should they have to isolate in addition to Creative Scotland opening up hardship funds for those artists struggling through the pandemic.

Was this enough? No. Were there shortcomings? Absolutely. Some of which, due to the limited scope of the devolution settlement, was unavoidable. It’s inescapable that, if the Scottish Parliament had powers over borrowing and employment law, workers in Scotland could have been better protected.

READ MORE: The Covid inquiries: The highs, the lows, the revelations

But we can sit here and say that the trade union movement in Scotland was not demonised or actively conspired against in the same way as the UK Government tried with the TUC.

Trust me when I say, this isn’t Scottish exceptionalism. Workers are united across borders. This is about our movement's role within civic society which, as the past 18 months of industrial action has shown, it’s far better to be on the side of working people than against us.

Roz Foyer is the General Secretary of the STUC