By Bill Heaney
The Scottish government will hand over more than 14,000 electronic messages to the UK Covid Inquiry, the deputy first minister has announced.
But Dame Jackie Baillie, the Dumbarton MSP and Deputy leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, says that’s not good enough.
Commenting after Shona Robison’s statement on the Covid inquiries Scottish Labour Health spokesperson Dame Jackie, pictured right, said “The evidence being taken at the UK Covid Inquiry today demonstrates why transparency in government is so important.
“People were discharged to care homes without testing; loved ones were separated from each other; too many died, and people lost their livelihoods.
“We need to understand why decisions were taken and what happened so we can learn lessons for the future.
“Bereaved families were promised nothing less than full co-operation by the Scottish Government with both the UK and Scottish Inquiries – but they have been treated with disrespect.
“We were promised transparency and given a guarantee from the First Minister that all evidence would be handed over but instead we have had the same old SNP secrecy and cover-ups.
“Evidence from those closest to the decision making has been destroyed on an industrial scale.
“There has been what can only be construed as deliberate and co-ordinated withholding of information.
“The Scottish Government’s story is still riddled with holes – we still have no idea how much evidence has been destroyed and no explanation as to why.
“The public deserve the truth and the Scottish Government must deliver it.”
Shona Robison also said First Minister Humza Yousaf would share his un-redacted WhatsApp messages.
The government had been criticised for not handing over all relevant data to the UK Covid Inquiry, with senior figures accused of deleting messages.
Opposition MSPs have told ministers to reveal why messages were erased.
Ms Robison said the government received a request in September from the UK Covid Inquiry to hand over WhatsApp messages from officials, ministers and former ministers related to the pandemic.
She told MSPs that the government requested a formal legal order, under section 21 of the Inquiries Act 2005, to release WhatsApp and other informal messages because of data privacy concerns.
The deputy first minister said that “all requested messages held will be shared in full and un-redacted by 6 November”.
In addition to “hundreds” of messages already submitted, Ms Robison said this would include more than 14,000 mainly WhatsApp messages from officials, ministers and former ministers.
“It will be for individuals to explain to the inquiries they have taken in relation to record retention,” she added.
However, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, left, said: “The Covid inquiries were set up to give answers to thousands of families who lost loved ones and to everyone who suffered during the pandemic – and it’s the First Minister who should have been answering these crucial questions in Parliament.
“Nicola Sturgeon promised us in August 2021 that ‘nothing would be off limits’ including WhatsApp messages. Yet at the weekend it was revealed that she had manually deleted messages.
“Scotland’s most senior clinician Jason Leitch was also reported to have deleted WhatsApp messages on a daily basis.
“The Deputy FM has said the SNP Government will now provide 14,000 WhatsApp messages – almost a year after they were originally asked for.
“Yet she refused to say whether this tally includes all messages from Nicola Sturgeon, Jason Leitch and others that were deleted. We need to know if these messages have been recovered. If they haven’t, it’s an indefensible cover-up.
“In June 2021, the Scottish Government were told not to destroy any communication relating to the inquiry’s work, yet the Deputy FM declined to say whether any messages were destroyed after that date.
“If they were, then any SNP minister or former minister – including Nicola Sturgeon – would potentially have broken the law.
“Finally, a lot of these issues have arisen because of disappearing messages. Again, the Deputy First Minister refused to answer my question on whether or not she had an auto-delete setting on her own WhatsApp.”