Scottish Government's Covid WhatsApp cover-up was even bigger than we thought – Scotsman comment

New evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry demonstrates the level of importance given by Scottish Government officials to deleting WhatsApp messages about their discussions

The revelation that Scotland’s chief medical officer told colleagues to daily delete WhatsApp messages during the pandemic – accompanied by his evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry that this was official advice – demonstrates just how widespread the Scottish Government’s culture of secrecy really was. The messages that managed to survive the mass deletions represent not a smoking gun, but a speeding bullet.

As a government employee, Professor Sir Gregor Smith can say he was only following the policy. When Scotland’s politicians come to give evidence to the inquiry, they will not have the same excuse. They set the policies.

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Smith tried to justify this destruction of evidence by saying he made sure “that any information which was important... was then captured in email form on the system, was formally recorded so that there was an auditable trail”. The inquiry, like any good auditor, may well conclude that it should have had access to all the information, not a sanitised version of it.

Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages contained embarrassing revelations from his time as UK Health Secretary, but also included valuable information about serious issues such as the decision to impose the first lockdown. Like Sturgeon, who says she managed to find copies of her messages, although it remains to be seen how many, Rishi Sunak also kept no WhatsApp messages from the pandemic period.

However, if the Prime Minister – referred to by one civil servant as “Dr Death” over his “eat out to help out” scheme – is looking for excuses, he will find a plentiful supply in the social media reaction from some nationalists, outraged by accurate reporting of the inquiry. Apparently, it’s perfectly normal to delete WhatsApp messages and anyway, the government didn’t take decisions on WhatsApp, so there’s nothing to see there... even if we could actually see them.

Obviously, they don’t know that. But for them, it’s about defending the independence cause and only unionists would object. The truth about the Scottish Government’s response to Covid reduced to a bit part in the constitutional debate – says it all about how blighted Scottish politics has become by the continuing ‘neverendum’.



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