Scottish Government ministers and officials have been accused of “orchestrated and concerted efforts” to delete their WhatsApp messages during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said those who lost loved ones to coronavirus had been “betrayed”, as he accused the Scottish Government of taking “secrecy and cover-up to a new low”.
Ross challenged the SNP over the issue following evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry from some of the key figures during the pandemic.
He spoke out ahead of the Tories challenging the Scottish Government on its “sickening cynicism and self-interest” in a debate on government transparency on Wednesday – the same day that former first minister Nicola Sturgeon is due to appear before the inquiry.
Senior adviser and Scottish national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch confirmed last week that he had “not retained any one-to-one informal communications in relation to the management of the pandemic in Scotland”.
And Liz Lloyd, who was chief of staff to Sturgeon, said the former first minister no longer had her messages from during the pandemic.
Lloyd, giving evidence during a series of hearings that are currently taking place in Edinburgh, said she had been unable to find messages from before September 2020.
Meanwhile, current Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf – who was health secretary during the later part of the pandemic – has come under pressure from Tories over his messages amid apparently conflicting comments about his messages.
Yousaf had previously insisted reports that he had deleted messages were “not true”, but then told the inquiry last week that documents showing he “deleted all messages after a month for cybersecurity purposes” were correct.
The Tories are now demanding the First Minister refer himself to the independent adviser to determine if he has breached the Ministerial Code.
Conservatives also insist Holyrood’s Covid-19 Committee should be re-formed so ministers can “be held to account”.
Wednesday’s debate at Holyrood comes after Yousaf used his own appearance before the inquiry last week to publicly issue an “unreserved” apology for the Scottish Government’s “frankly poor” handling of requests for WhatsApp messages to be handed over.
But Ross said: “If Humza Yousaf’s ‘apology’ to the bereaved is to mean anything, he must refer himself to the Independent Adviser on the Ministerial Code, for misleading comments on his own WhatsApp messages, and back our calls to reconvene the Covid-19 committee, so that he and other ministers can be held to account.”
The Scottish Conservative leader insisted: “The Covid-bereaved families have been utterly betrayed by an SNP Government which took its trademark secrecy and cover-up to a new low during the pandemic.
“The inquiry has exposed their sickening cynicism and self-interest.
“We have learned of the orchestrated and concerted efforts of senior ministers and officials to delete WhatsApp messages en masse.
“And the messages that have been recovered explain the reason for the cover-up: they didn’t want us to know that Nicola Sturgeon shamefully exploited the pandemic for ‘purely political’ purposes to stoke division with the UK Government and push the SNP’s independence obsession.”
Ross added: “That’s not an allegation – it’s a fact. Minutes of a Cabinet meeting in June 2020, and messages from the former first minister’s chief of staff, explicitly say so. They illustrate the SNP’s true, rotten colours.”
The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.
STV News is now on WhatsApp
Get all the latest news from around the countryFollow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp
Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country