Humza Yousaf accused of misleading parliament over WhatsApps

The Scottish Government's timeline reveals the UK Covid Inquiry first asked for relevant WhatsApps nine months ago.

First Minister Humza Yousaf accused of misleading parliament over WhatsApps Getty Images

The First Minister and his deputy have been accused of misleading the Scottish Parliament over the demand to hand over WhatsApps sent during the Covid pandemic.

The Scottish Government has published a timeline of its dealings with the UK Covid Inquiry, saying it has handed over all the messages it held.

The timeline reveals the Inquiry first asked for relevant WhatsApps nine months ago.

Last week, Humza Yousaf said the Government had only been asked to submit the messages in September.

The Scottish Conservatives and Labour have accused Yousaf and deputy first minister Shona Robison of misleading parliament.

The Scottish Government said it has co-operated with the Covid Inquiry.

Scottish Conservative 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.”

At the end of the Scottish Parliament’s proceedings on Wednesday evening, Robison raised a point of order to alert MSPs to the publication of the timeline.

Scottish Government’s timeline of Covid Inquiry requests

Robison said the Inquiry made an initial draft request of the Scottish Government on November 4, 2022, asking whether WhatsApp groups were used by the government under Rule 9 of the Inquiry Rules 2006.

In February 2023, the Inquiry sent a final version of the Rule 9 Request and asked for “communications relating to key decisions” including emails, texts and WhatsApp messages held by the government.

The Scottish Government said it submitted draft responses through the spring of 2023.

Its timetable publication said: “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 inquiry made a further request in June 2023 seeking details of the Scottish Government’s policy on informal messaging.

This asked for the names of any such groups, their members and their roles.

In September 2023, the inquiry asked for the messages within those WhatsApp groups to be handed over.

A number of requests were sent to ministers, civil servants and former ministers in July and August 2023.

The Government said there was a “large amount of sensitive and personal information contained within the WhatsApp messages” and in order to comply with data protection laws it requested a Section 21 notice to hand them over.

When this was supplied, the Government was given a deadline of November 6 to hand over the messages.

The Government’s publication said: “The Scottish Government complied with this deadline and released all such messages it held to the inquiry on November 6.”

Commenting on the release of the timeline, Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie 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.”

She added: “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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