What’sApp deletion could be scandal of the century - Alex Cole-Hamilton

Nicola Sturgeon at the podium in 2020 for a Covid briefing (Picture: Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images)Nicola Sturgeon at the podium in 2020 for a Covid briefing (Picture: Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Nicola Sturgeon at the podium in 2020 for a Covid briefing (Picture: Jane Barlow/WPA Pool/Getty Images)
​”To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making” German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck is supposed to have once said.

As with bratwurst, the production of new legislation is a messy business. You don’t want to see what goes into them. While many legislators operate in good faith, there can be no doubt that law making is often filled with compromise, horse trading and naked political opportunism.

And having been an MSP for nearly eight years I’ve seen my fair share of the unsightly innards of the process by which an idea becomes an Act of Parliament.

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But once in a while, something happens which necessitates a post-mortem of every aspect of what went on behind the scenes in the production of legislation or government decisions. Never was such a post-mortem more necessary than in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. And to do that job justice, the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries need access not just to the publicly available record of decisions taken but the private communications and the weighing of evidence that went on in private channels and behind closed doors.

It was always going to be embarrassing for ministers and their advisers to have their private turf wars and idiotic flights of fancy brought to light. But it is a vital and necessary part of understanding what informed and influenced the decisions of those who wielded so much power over our lives during the pandemic.

From UK Government WhatsApp exchanges we learned that Carrie Johnson held a huge amount of unaccountable power in Downing Street, that Matt Hancock imagined himself a test cricketer, batting away the problems bowled at him and that Boris Johnson was just as chaotic and disorganised as one might have suspected.

These exchanges provided a hugely important insight into the culture at the heart of Number 10.

It is an insight that may be forever denied to the grieving Covid families of Scotland.

On Friday we learned that Nicola Sturgeon and her key advisers during the pandemic have no such messages to offer the inquiry. That not only did they fail to retain those WhatsApp interactions, but they were regularly reminding each other to delete them lest they make it into the hands of the public inquiry they knew was coming.

Forget the camper-van this has the makings of one of the worst scandals in the history of Scottish politics.

Both on the floor of the Scottish Parliament and live on broadcast network news during the pandemic Nicola Sturgeon was asked to retain all her private messages so they could be reviewed by a future public inquiry. She was insistent at the time that she would, but it’s now clear that she had other plans and those messages were being quietly erased from her devices. The remnants of a few pieced-together conversations is not what was promised to families.

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Why such underhanded secrecy? We may never know for sure. But one clue may also lie in Friday’s inquiry proceedings. Minutes of a Scottish Cabinet Meeting held in June 2020 covered a discussion about the prospect of using the pandemic to restart the campaign for independence. What’s worse is that this happened on the very same day that the First Minister had admonished a reporter for suggesting that she was thinking about anything other than the pandemic.

People were dying and SNP ministers were making self-interested political calculations. It stinks to high heaven and you can bet there’s likely more of that in the now deleted messages.

Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy was already hanging by a thread, but she still had her handling of the pandemic. She will have the chance to explain herself to the inquiry and I hope to Parliament, but unless she can magic up the missing messages and offer the Covid families closure, any credit she still had with the public over Covid will join her WhatsApp messages in being lost forever.



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