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by Kirsteen Paterson
20 February 2024
Alex Salmond: I didn't sign off Scottish Government WhatsApp deletion policy

Alba Party leader Alex Salmond | Alamy

Alex Salmond: I didn't sign off Scottish Government WhatsApp deletion policy

Alex Salmond has dismissed claims that message deletion was Scottish Government policy in 2007.

Appearing before a panel of MPs, Salmond - who became first minister in 2007 - said he had not authorised any such policy and did not know why Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry they had been following official rules when they erased their WhatsApps from the pandemic period.

Humza Yousaf has launched an inquiry into the data retention policy and the Scottish Information Commissioner has also begun an investigation into the deletion of informal messaging by ministers.

Salmond, who left office in 2014, said he had not used WhatsApp and preferred to use phone calls and his private office for the conduct of business.

He said: "No deletion from me, and I'm not aware of any deletion policy, as was suggested back to 2007. Certainly, it's not one that I practised."

Salmond told the committee: "I was interested to hear that some people claimed those practises went back to 2007 - that's the first I've heard of it.

"I actually checked with Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil, who were both ministers at the time whether they had ever heard of that policy, and they hadn't heard of it either.

"I conducted everything through my private office."

Asked by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross if it was his view that Sturgeon and Swinney had "lied under oath" to the inquiry, Salmond said: "That's a matter for the Covid inquiry and the Information Commissioner to investigate. 

"Let me be quite clear, I am not aware of any such policy. I would have thought I would have had to sign off a policy. 

"Looking at what John said, because I looked at this in some detail, he seemed to be referring to some advice he had from civil servants or his private offices. It's possible that there was such advice through a private office, but I had certainly no general government policy and nothing I signed off, and I was totally unaware of it."

He stated: "I didn't conduct any business in that fashion as first minister and I thought that was the whole point of, you know, this panoply of folk who did all your work for you. So I did everything through the private office, but I would have to sign off if it had been in general policy.

"It's possible they were specifically advised by somebody or other so they may will say that, but that's for them to clarify."

Salmond, who now leads the Alba Party, was giving evidence on intergovernmental relations to the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster.

He said he had been "annoyed by the informality of emails" during his time in government, when civil servants had been "emailing each other about the football results".

He said he approached senior civil servant Sir John Elvidge about "the chances of banning emails in the Scottish Government", telling MPs that had been deemed too "adventurous", but a pilot had been set up in the historic monuments section.

Salmond said: "I was just trying to get across the fact that I didn't think it was great idea for civil service official correspondence to be talking about, hopefully, Hearts beating Hibs."

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