Spotlight turns on key decisions made by Sturgeon during Covid pandemic

Former first minister will appear at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in Edinburgh on Wednesday.

Deleted WhatsApp messages. The transfer of patients from hospitals to care homes without testing them for Covid. Texts describing Boris Johnson as a “f****** clown”.

Just some of the issues that are likely to come up as Nicola Sturgeon gives evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Wednesday.

The stakes are high for the former first minister as she seeks to explain the vital decisions she took while at the helm of the Scottish Government during the coronavirus pandemic.

She is also fighting to save her reputation and legacy, which has taken a severe battering by the testimony delivered so far at the inquiry alongside the ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s funding and finances.

It’s all a far cry from the daily televised briefings during lockdown, when Sturgeon’s political stock and favour among the public had never been higher.

Now she has the opportunity to respond to some of the evidence heard at the inquiry in recent weeks.

WhatsApp divergence

Were Scottish Government ministers told to routinely delete WhatsApp messages during the pandemic or not?

The answer thus far is very unclear.

Earlier this month, the inquiry heard that all of Sturgeon’s WhatsApp messages during the pandemic had been deleted.

That is despite guaranteeing at one of her many briefings that she would not have the ability conceal any messages during a statutory public inquiry.

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Sturgeon has already mounted some semblance of defence on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, saying she does have messages between herself and those she regularly communicated with, and that decisions on the pandemic were recorded formally in line with Scottish Government policy.

Meanwhile, national clinical director Jason Leitch says he continued to delete WhatsApp messages in line with guidance from the Scottish Government.

But, giving evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday, former Scottish Government finance secretary Kate Forbes said she did not delete any of her WhatsApp messages with cabinet secretaries, special advisers and the private office until January 2022 when all major Covid-19 decisions had been made.

Former deputy first minister John Swinney said he deleted messages between himself and now First Minister Humza Yousaf “on an ongoing basis”.

He said he would “apologise unreservedly” if he “misunderstood” the Scottish Government’s policy of information retention.

The lack of consistency over the issue of whether Scottish Government ministers and senior advisers were told to routinely delete WhatsApp messages is likely to form a key part of proceedings on Wednesday.

Care homes

Jeanne Freeman, who was the health secretary during the pandemic up to the 2021 Holyrood election, told the inquiry in Edinburgh on Tuesday there were “no risk free choices” when considering whether to introduce social distancing measures into care homes.

Her tenure oversaw key decision such as discharging patients to care homes without testing them for coronavirus first.

Freeman admitted the Scottish Government response to Covid-19 in the adult care sector was “not as adequate as I would have wished it to be”.

The practice was seen in the early stages of the pandemic, when the health service was looking to free-up bed spaces for expected pressures.

A Public Health Scotland report later found more than 100 patients had been admitted to care homes from hospital after having previously tested positive for the virus and before receiving a negative test.

Speaking ahead of the evidence sessions, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “Jeane Freeman and Nicola Sturgeon were responsible for this decision and this week they will have the opportunity to give families the answers they deserve.

“Every single person who made sacrifices and suffered losses during the pandemic deserve answers from this inquiry – the SNP must end the culture of secrecy and cover-up and come clean.”

‘Boris the clown’

One of the most eye-opening text exchanges unveiled at the inquiry so far was a conversation between Sturgeon and her then chief of staff Liz Lloyd.

Sturgeon branded Johnson a “f****** clown” in a series of messages during the then prime minister’s “f****** excruciating” announcement of a second national lockdown for England, the inquiry heard.

The messages were revealed as Lloyd, described as one of Sturgeon’s closest confidantes, gave evidence last week.

They show Sturgeon blasted Johnson for his “utter incompetence”, saying it was “offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere”.

The remarks came in an exchange of messages on October 31, 2020 – with Lloyd saying Johnson was using “15 minutes between the rugby and Strictly to lock the country up”.

She added: “Let us never do this like this.”

Sturgeon responded: “Their comms are behind awful. We’re not perfect but we don’t get nearly enough credit for how much better than them we are.”

The then first minister – who will give evidence to the inquiry next Wednesday – continued: “This is f excruciating. Their comms are awful.”

She then said of Johnson: “He is a f****** clown.”

It is fair to say she may be asked about that description of the former PM during her evidence session on Wednesday.

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