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by Staff reporter
08 November 2023
Humza Yousaf accused of misleading parliament amid WhatsApp row

Humza Yousaf is accused of misleading parliament during last week's First Minister's Questions | Alamy

Humza Yousaf accused of misleading parliament amid WhatsApp row

First Minister Humza Yousaf has been accused of misleading parliament over WhatsApp messages handed to the UK Covid inquiry.

Yousaf said last week that his government was only asked to hand over WhatsApp messages relating to the pandemic in September.

But this appears to be contradicted by a response from Deputy First Minister Shona Robison given to a parliamentary question which shows the Scottish Government was first asked for the messages in February.

Responding to a question from SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald, Robison said the UK Covid Inquiry had sent an initial draft request to the government in November last year inquiring about the use of WhatsApp or other group chats to discuss “significant decision-making”. It then sent a request for the messages in February.

In response to the parliamentary question, Robison set out the following timeline:

  • On 4 November 2022, she said the inquiry sent to the Scottish Government an initial draft request asking about the extent to which there was informal or private communication about significant decision-making
  • On 2 February 2023, the inquiry requested key communications and significant correspondence, including WhatsApp messages, relating to a range of different issues
  • Robison said the Scottish Government submitted draft responses to the Inquiry relating to those requests throughout the spring. In those responses it made clear that all key decisions and decision making were recorded on the Scottish Government corporate record. No WhatsApp messages were submitted as part of those responses.
  • The draft responses were finalised in June but the inquiry asked for further information about the use of WhatsApp groups "concerned with the Covid-19 response".
  • The inquiry asked for the messages to be handed over in September, later issuing a legal notice on 30 October.

Robison said: “The Inquiry issued this Section 21 Notice on Monday 30 October, setting a deadline of Monday 6 November for the information to be supplied. The Scottish Government complied with this deadline and released all such messages it held to the Inquiry on 6 November.”

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions last week, Yousaf said:  “It is crucial to say that, when the UK Government inquiry asked us in June for details of the various WhatsApp groups concerning Covid 19, it did not request the messages themselves.

“The messages were asked for in September, just a matter of weeks ago.

“The Scottish Government then asked for a Section 21 order because of the personal information in some of those messages, and that was received. Now, of course, we will meet the deadline of 6 November to hand over 14,000 messages in unredacted form.”

In response to publication of the parliamentary question, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “It's clear that the first minister and deputy first minister misled parliament last week when they claimed that ministers were only asked to hand over WhatsApp messages in the last few weeks.”

Scottish Labour Deputy Leader Jackie Baillie accused the government of orchestrating a “cover up”.

She said: “This timeline directly contradicts statements made by the first minister and the deputy first minister.

“The only thing clearer is the extent to which this shambolic government has lost control trying to cover up the truth and obstruct those seeking it.

“It begs the question, what do they have to hide. Meanwhile the public are no clearer on who has complied with the do not destroy order and how many senior ministers and officials deleted messages.”

 

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