Jason Leitch “almost intervened” during a Covid-era cabinet meeting after Nicola Sturgeon began “ranting” at then health secretary Humza Yousaf.
Yousaf had surprised ministers in December 2021 when he said he could find £100m from the NHS budget to help with business support.
The UK Covid Inquiry heard the late stage of the announcement angered then First Minister Sturgeon.
Following the meeting, Yousaf messaged Leitch to say he took “one hell of a bullet at cabinet”, WhatsApp messages released by the inquiry show.
He said Sturgeon was “not remotely happy” about his proposal and the late stage it had come at.
Leitch replied: “I was listening. I almost intervened to deflect for you. She was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous”.
Yousaf said he did not realise the civil servant was part of the call and added: “Ack, that’s just the way it is. Her ranting at me isn’t the problem. I can take it. It’s whether the quantum at this stage helps us strengthen the package.”
“Though feel free to defend me at a later stage,” he added alongside a laughing emoji.
The messages were released on Tuesday during the questioning of former deputy first minister John Swinney by the UK Covid Inquiry.
‘I’ve never seen Sturgeon this angry in all my cabinets’
The inquiry heard from ex-finance secretary Kate Forbes earlier that day.
She was shown messages of her discussing the “awkward” and “embarrassing” cabinet incident with Alyson Stafford, the director general of the Scottish Exchequer.
Forbes wrote in the messages that it was “news” to her and Sturgeon, and that she had never seen Sturgeon “this angry in all my cabinets”.
She said “surprises were never welcome” at cabinet and that Yousaf was “trying to be helpful”, but the idea was not drafted in cabinet papers.
It comes a week after separate WhatsApp messages between Yousaf and Leitch revealed the pair using sweary language to insult opposition politicians.
The national clinical director accused one Tory MSP of “acting like a child” and described a Labour politician as a “smart a***”.
Asked about the incident between Yousaf and Sturgeon during the December 2021 cabinet meeting, Swinney denied that cabinet meetings were “driven by Nicola Sturgeon’s strong-mindedness” and disagreed that challenging her was “seen as taking a bullet”.
Pointing to the WhatsApps between Leitch and Yousaf, Jamie Dawson KC asked Swinney: “Do these messages not show the culture of the Scottish cabinet were driven by Nicola Sturgeon’s strong mindedness when challenging her was seen as taking a bullet?”
Swinney said: “No, because I think that particular morning, the First Minister was a little bit surprised that the health portfolio had been able to find £100 million to transfer to business support.
“In all my 10 years of handling the public finances of Scotland, the health secretary never offered me £100m in exchange for anything.”
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