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Sketch: Shona Robison WhatsApps her coffee order

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Shona Robison WhatsApps her coffee order

No one cares whether Shona Robison wants a cup of coffee, which is why Scottish ministers have deleted their WhatsApp messages. Apparently.

Making a statement to the parliament about why messages may no longer exist, the deputy first minister insists her coffee-drinking habits would not have been recorded under the government’s “clear” policy.

“It is not the culture within the Scottish Government to routinely use systems such as WhatsApp for decision making,” she argues. Apart from, clearly, decisions about whether she wants an Americano or a latte.

“The issue about the deletion of messages relates to being able to distinguish messages about cups of coffee… from important information that is about decision making,” she explains to the chamber. Maybe that is harder than it sounds – important documents about ferry procurement seem to be mislabelled as ‘coffee-related’ all the time.

All ministers need to do is talk about where to get the best dark roast

The row, of course, was over what information the Scottish Government was providing to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry. During the course of the day, lawyers in London had gleefully been reading out messages about “morons” and “useless fuckpigs”. For the public record, of course.

Naturally, the Scottish Government wanted to distance itself from that language. It likes to do politics differently, after all.

So, Robison announces over 14,000 WhatsApp messages will be sent to the inquiry. She is unable to say what those messages contained – she has not seen them – but no doubt she is confident that no such colourful language will appear. Except for, perhaps, ones from Elena Whitham, who infamously called Robison a “cold fish” over text.

The Scottish Government has a “clear records management policy”, Robison continues, and she once again insists that decisions are not “routinely” made on WhatsApp. Which seems like precise wording in case it does come to light that some decisions were made over WhatsApp.

Gillian Mackay spots that, and asks the cabinet secretary to “clarify whether decisions were made on WhatsApp during the Covid pandemic”.

“Let me make it clear again that WhatsApp is not routinely used as a decision-making tool,” repeats the DFM. “That is because if a minister wants a decision to be acted on, it has to go into the system.”

So, let me get this right. Decisions are not made on WhatsApp because they won’t be acted on if no one but the sender and recipient read it. But a WhatsApp message put into the system may become part of the decision-making process, because then it can be acted on. Yes, a “clear records management policy,” indeed. Double espresso, anyone?

“The stench of secrecy from the government is overpowering,” claims Tory leader Douglas Ross – and he presumably isn’t referring to the stench of cold fish. Rather, he’s woken up and can smell the coffee.

He’s also raging that it’s the DFM, and not the FM, giving this statement. If he has to be here, Humza Yousaf should be too. We all know he’d rather be refereeing (rather than carping) from the sidelines.

Tory Stephen Kerr accepts the DFM doesn’t know anything

Thankfully a couple of SNP MSPs are waiting in the wings to lend their DFM a hand. Jackie Dunbar references the UK Government’s court case to stop WhatsApp messages being handed to the inquiry – because of course, the Scottish Government is slightly less rubbish than the UK Government and therefore there is no need to ask any real questions of it.

And then John Mason ponders about how to ensure ministers can have “informal” conversations that don’t need to be recorded. It’s quite clear all ministers need to do is talk about where to get the best dark roast.

Other MSPs try to get some actually useful information out of the DFM, like Labour’s Daniel Johnson, who wonders how many individuals complied with the ‘do not destroy’ notices. But Robison says she had “no sight of any of that information”. I believe the phrase is ‘plausible deniability’.

Tory Stephen Kerr accepts the DFM doesn’t know anything. So he wonders what she thinks of someone who does know something – for instance the former first minister – coming to the chamber to make a statement? Robison replies without answering.

Meanwhile in the garden lobby, hacks are eagerly awaiting the arrival of one Nicola Sturgeon, who has promised to take a few questions about the whole thing. She did not, however, promise to answer them.

Did she delete any WhatsApp messages? “I am cooperating fully and constructively with the inquiry,” she says.

But have you deleted messages, journos ask. “Any messages I had, I handled and dealt with in line with the policies set out by the deputy first minister.”

Does that mean she deleted some? “Let me finish,” she snaps back, before repeating what she’s already said.

Then, starting to walk away, one intrepid reporter pipes up: “What are you trying to hide?” She can’t let that one slide. Returning moodily back to the huddle, she insists she has “nothing to hide”. But she still won’t answer the question about whether she deleted any messages.

Elsewhere, the current first minister finds an old phone he had lost down the back of a sofa…

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