Alister Jack did not believe Nicola Sturgeon’s testimony to the UK Covid Inquiry “for a minute”, saying the former first minister “could cry from one eye if she wanted to”.
The Scottish secretary was questioned by the probe in Edinburgh on Thursday a day after the ex-SNP leader made an emotional statement to the inquiry.
Sturgeon became tearful at several moments during the six-and-a-half hour session where she said a “large part” of her wished she hadn’t been FM during the Covid pandemic.
“People will make their own judgments about me,” she said, “about my government, about my decisions, but for as long as I live, I will carry the impact of these decisions, I will carry regret at the decisions and judgments I got wrong, but I will always know in my heart, and in my soul, that my instincts and my motivation was nothing other than trying to do the best in the face of this pandemic.”
She denied accusations of secrecy within her government and that she made decisions on coronavirus restrictions for political reasons, including to further the cause of independence.
Watch live :Alister Jack appears in front of UK Covid Inquiry
Her answers were dismissed on Thursday by the Scottish secretary who insisted the Scottish Government tried to be different from the UK Government “for the sake of it”.
He was asked by lead counsel to the inquiry Jamie Dawson KC: “Did your pre-existing assumptions result in you failing to believe she could do that (set aside political convictions about independence)?”
He replied: “I watched that evidence from yesterday and I didn’t believe it for a minute.
‘I didn’t delete some of my WhatsApp messages, I deleted all of them’
Like Swinney and Sturgeon, Jack told the inquiry he had also deleted his WhatsApps during Covid – but for different reasons.
While Swinney and Sturgeon said it was Scottish Government policy, Jack said his phone was running out of space.
He said: “I didn’t delete some of my WhatsApp messages, I deleted all of them.”
Jack insisted he deleted no messages related to government business because he did not conduct business via WhatsApp.
He told the inquiry he deleted messages from his phone because he had 16GB of storage.
“I think Nicola Sturgeon could cry from one eye if she wanted to.”
Jack described some of the differences in rules between Scotland and the rest of the UK during the pandemic as “sort of farcical”.
He said: “The Scottish Government had moved to this unrealistic zero Covid strategy.
“We had this position where people getting on the train in Glasgow were taking their masks off just north of Carlisle, or coming back up from Euston.
“It was sort of farcical really.
“It spoke to me about unnecessarily affecting people’s behaviour.
“Of course it impacted on things like hospitality.”
The Tory secretary admitted there were tensions between the devolved and reserved governments but said that was “inevitable” because the SNP want to “destroy the UK”.
He told the Covid inquiry: “The then-first minister (Nicola Sturgeon) saw her job as leader of a nationalist government to break up the UK.
He said it was “inevitable there would be tensions”.
Jack added: “Devolution works very well but works very well when both governments want to work together.
“But when one government wants to destroy the UK and destroy devolution then there are tensions.
“Those tensions existed before the pandemic, during the pandemic and they exist now today.”
Former deputy first minister – who was also Covid recovery secretary – John Swinney was asked about his contact with the UK government during the pandemic at the probe earlier this week.
He said the Scottish Government did not engage with Jack because he “contributed nothing of useful value”.
“If the Scottish Government had a problem with the UK Government the best way to solve it was to go directly to the person in the UK Government,” Swinney said.
“And indeed we had interlocutors who were quite helpful in trying to help resolve these issues.
“In my experience the secretary of state for Scotland would have contributed nothing of useful value in assisting us in that process.”
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