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Sketch: John Mason leaks some WhatsApp messages

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: John Mason leaks some WhatsApp messages

There’s been a leak at the parliament. Private WhatsApp messages between MSPs have been distributed. Security will be notified.

And who is responsible for this serious breach? None other than John Mason.

You see, in trying to defend his government’s failure to be open and transparent about its communications, Mason thought he should be open and transparent about his own messages.

The MSP reveals such salacious gossip as Brian Whittle being stuck in traffic on the M8; Jim Fairlie wanting to wish everyone a happy new year; and Murdo Fraser thinking Siobhian Brown “expertly chaired” a session.

Ross is having real difficulty with someone else putting him in a bad light

Were any of these MSPs consulted before their sensitive texts were read out to the chamber? Had Mason made a Section 9 request? Who can say? But it’s too late now – the information is out there for all to see.

Mason insists he is using the messages as an example of “what WhatsApp was and is being used for”. Because if he and his colleagues weren’t messaging about anything controversial and important, then neither was anyone else.

“The Tories are making what I think is a mountain out of a molehill,” Mason continues, ignoring all normal rules of political engagement.

He tells colleagues that they could have been debating any number of important issues, “but no, the Conservatives want to know whether Shona Robison was stuck on the M90 or whether Humza Yousaf wanted chocolate on top of his cappuccino”.

He accuses those asking for the WhatsApp messages of “just wanting juicy gossip” (in an interesting interpretation of both ‘juicy’ and ‘gossip’).

It is a bizarre argument, even for the esoteric MSP for Glasgow Shettleston who has previously taken us on many a convoluted journey during debates. But in the middle of quite an important session about government transparency and whether the first minister and the deputy first minister had misled parliament, it’s maybe a step too far even for his logic.

The government interpreted the inquiry requesting WhatsApp messages too narrowly. So narrowly, in fact, that it did not provide any

Douglas Ross, leading the debate, says it is important to “stand up for the integrity of this parliament”. Integrity is his middle name.

“If the public cannot trust parliamentarians, then that reflects badly not only on one individual party but on us all.” Ross is having real difficulty with someone else putting him in a bad light. Not that that has ever happened before, you understand. Certainly no one called Boris Johnson has ever single-handedly destroyed public trust in politicians.

But he’s not talking about that. No, Ross would like the parliament to back an investigation into Yousaf and Robison. He highlights the fact that his motion says nothing about whether the pair are guilty or not, which is why all MSPs should support it.

And then he spends the rest of his contribution talking about how the FM and DFM are definitely, absolutely guilty.

Robison, clad in the armour of bad excuses, stands to defend herself. The government interpreted the inquiry requesting WhatsApp messages too narrowly. So narrowly, in fact, that it did not provide any WhatsApp messages.

And when the Covid inquiry challenged ministers on claims it had not specifically asked for WhatsApp messages, Robison had to concede it “has a point”.

“Which is why the GIQ (Government Initiated Question) put the information of the full timeline, all the information that was asked for, into the public domain,” says Robison with a flourish of her flimsy shield of reasons. And so the government came clean at 5pm one evening, answers hidden in the bowels of parliamentary procedure.

“They did not stand for election to defend sleekit behaviour and evasion,” Gallacher says. I mean, maybe they did

Adult-in-the-room Anas Sarwar calmly insists that “people deserve the truth”. He highlights that even Matt Hancock handed over 100,000 messages. You know things are bad when Hancock is held up as a positive role model.

On the Scottish Government, he menacingly concludes: “They must – and will – be held to account.” Behind him, Labour’s enforcer Jackie Baillie cracks her knuckles.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, meanwhile, is concerned about Nicola Sturgeon’s reputation. “There is a belief that she took decisions based solely on a desire to be different from Boris Johnson. She will never be able to dismiss those suggestions,” he says mournfully.

But then, she’s only got herself to blame because she would “go home at night and systematically delete” messages, he says. That’s the true reason why Sturgeon looked so scunnered during the pandemic. She was up late contemplating difficult decisions – of which messages to keep.

Meghan Gallacher feels bad for the SNP backbenches. “They did not stand for election to defend sleekit behaviour and evasion,” she says. I mean, maybe they did. How would Gallacher know?

Clare Adamson proves the point. The tone of this debate is “completely wrong,” she says, suggesting a “pantomime villain is being sought”. Oh no, there isn’t.

And on cue, George Adam, unruffled by any of the debate (to be fair, very difficult to ruffle someone wearing that much hair product), gets up to tell MSPs how well the Scottish Government does transparency. Really well, he insists. So well, in fact, that it actually responds to Freedom of Information requests. Sometimes.

Ultimately, MSPs vote against having the first minister and deputy first minister investigated. Indeed, the biggest impact of this debate might just be that no one will ever message John Mason again – at least not without setting it to autodelete.

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