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by Louise Wilson
25 January 2024
WhatsApp row ‘not the government’s finest hour’ says Humza Yousaf

Humza Yousaf will appear before the Covid-19 inquiry this afternoon | Alamy

WhatsApp row ‘not the government’s finest hour’ says Humza Yousaf

The first minister has insisted his government is committed to transparency following concerns about the deletion of WhatsApp messages during the pandemic.

But Humza Yousaf agreed the row had “not been the government’s finest hour”.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Labour’s Anas Sarwar both said the evidence heard at the Covid-19 inquiry proved there was a “culture of secrecy” at the heart of the Scottish government.

The inquiry, which is currently sitting in Edinburgh, heard on Monday that Nicola Sturgeon “had retained no messages whatsoever in connection with her management of the pandemic”.

Repeated references to the deletion of messages by civil servants have also surfaced, with national clinical director Jason Leitch telling the inquiry he was being “flippant” when he told colleagues WhatsApp deletion was a “pre-bed ritual”.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Ross said it was "completely wrong and utterly scandalous" that Sturgeon had deleted messages.

"From politicians to civil servants, they sought to delete evidence," he added.

He also said it was clear now decisions that were taken over WhatsApp, and asked whether Humza Yousaf had misled parliament when he previously told MSPs that decisions were not routinely taken via WhatsApp.

Sarwar accused politicians and civil servants of deleting messages on an “industrial scale”.

He added: “This is a party that over the last 17 years in government has created a culture of secrecy and cover up, a culture that goes from the first minister down.”

But Yousaf highlighted that over 28,000 messages had been handed to the inquiry while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak "hasn't handed over a single WhatsApp".

He added that all decisions, even when made over WhatsApp, were uploaded to the corporate record.

But he acknowledged there were “challenges” around the government’s use of the messaging service. “That’s why I have commissioned officials to deliver an externally-led review… into the use of mobile messaging apps and the use of non-corporate technology in the Scottish government,” he added.

Yousaf will appear before the Covid-19 inquiry later on Thursday afternoon.

Sturgeon is set to give evidence next Wednesday. Her former chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, gave evidence on this morning.

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