FMQs: Humza Yousaf challenged on handing text evidence to Covid Inquiry
First Minister Humza Yousaf has been challenged over his failure to hand information including WhatsApp messages to the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry.
At First Minister’s Questions Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross raised comments made this morning by Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the inquiry, that said “no messages were provided” in relation to key decisions made by ministers during the pandemic.
The first minister offered his condolences to the families who lost relatives during the pandemic.
Addressing the handing over of communications, Yousaf said: “Let me make it clear that any potentially relevant information that we hold, be it in WhatsApp, be it email, be it in any correspondence, we will hand over – have handed over – and of course if there are concerns that have been raised by the inquiry, as Douglas Ross has rightly said, have been – then we will fully investigate them.”
He added: “We will, of course, hand over and have handed over relevant material. There are some messages that we are going to continue to provide, but they have to go through the appropriate process.”
Ross questioned whether the first minister knew what he had referred to, reiterating Dawson’s quote. He pointed out that Yousaf had previously spoken to media and said, “if a request has been made the Scottish Government should be open and transparent”.
Yousaf replied that the Scottish Government “did not make decisions through WhatsApp” adding “that’s not what we routinely did”. He said that he will continue to say to government ministers and officials to “comply with the inquiry fully”, adding that he personally provided a statement to the inquiry that is over 100 pages.
He continued: “I asked the Solicitor General this morning to investigate whether there are any other messages that have to be handed over.”
Ross replied telling the first minister that the involvement of the Solicitor General should not be needed.
The Tory leader suggested Yousaf had inadvertently misled parliament in his response and noted that “we know SNP government ministers routinely use WhatsApp to discuss government matters”.
Yousaf refuted that he has misled parliament and said that Ross’s response was a “complete mischaracterisation” of what he had said.
He told Ross he “didn’t say there weren’t discussions over WhatsApp”, but that government ministers and officials “didn't routinely make decisions over WhatsApp”.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar raised fire service cuts and comments made by the Fire Brigades Union that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) is in “crisis”.
Sarwar told Yousaf that “these cuts are putting lives at risk”.
The first minister responded to the Labour leader: “We’ve provided SFRS with more than £368m this year – an increase if £14.4m on 22-23.”
He added that in Scotland there are 11.3 firefighters for every 10,000 Scots, whereas there are only 6.1 in England and 8.4 in Wales.
Sarwar refuted Yousaf’s response, telling him that the budget for fire and rescue services had fallen 22 per cent in the past decade and that the first minister is “burying his head in the sand”.