Scottish ministers claim they did not use WhatsApp during Alex Salmond Inquiry or Green negotiations
Scottish ministers have claimed they sent and received no WhatsApp or text messages during the height of the Alex Salmond inquiry and while negotiating the SNP’s coalition deal with the Scottish Greens.
The claim comes in a response to two Freedom of Information requests to the Scottish Government asking for any messages sent or received by ministers during the months of March and August this year.
Officials claimed they did not hold the information because no relevant messages exist.
Opposition parties in Holyrood said the claim was “stretching credibility to breaking point” and labelled it “dubious”.
The Scottish Government said the criticism was “ridiculous”.
The claim comes just months after the Scottish Information Commissioner (SIC) criticised the Scottish Government for failing to have an adequate back-up system in place for messaging apps such as WhatsApp.
Head of enforcement at the SIC, Margaret Keyse, wrote the transparency watchdog was “concerned” there was no policy and that messages could be deleted permanently by ministers and officials.
The FOI request from Scotland on Sunday covered messages on government business while Holyrood and the government was transfixed by the political drama of the final stages of the Salmond inquiry and, in August, waited for news around the soon-to-be-announced SNP/ Green co-operation agreement.
Responding, officials said despite searches of the Government’s information management system and direct requests to ministers, no records were held within the scope of the request
The requests are now subject to an appeal to the SIC.
Reacting, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said it was time for stronger laws around access to information.
He said: “I would like to see Nicola Sturgeon's Cabinet ministers keep a straight face while they tell the Information Commissioner they never touch WhatsApp. They're stretching credibility to breaking point.
"Every journalist, campaigner and political activist who has ever tried to use Freedom of Information laws to get information out of the Scottish Government knows the arsenal of dirty tricks they will face.
"It's time to beef up Scotland's laws on access to information to prevent those in power riding roughshod over the public's right to know."
The Scottish Conservative’s chief whip, Stephen Kerr, accused the SNP of “hiding”.
He said: “The SNP seem to be hiding behind an exemption of the Freedom of Information rules, expecting us to believe that ministers and staff don’t use phone messaging apps to keep in touch with one another.
“The Scottish Conservatives have previously raised this issue with the Information Commissioner, who expressed their own concerns over the Government’s woolly policy that means that there is no back-up if messages are deleted.
“The SNP need to show greater transparency. These kind of tactics only raise suspicion about whether Government decisions are being made without due scrutiny.”
Scottish Labour’s business manager Neil Bibby labelled the claims “dubious”.
He said: “These dubious responses are bound to raise some eyebrows.
“It stretches credibility to believe this information doesn’t exist – and if it does, you have to wonder why it is being buried.
“We cannot allow the culture of secrecy at the heart of the SNP to undermine FOI law and hinder transparency.”
A spokesperson for George Adam, the minister for parliamentary business, said: “These opposition comments are ridiculous.
"They used to criticise ministers for using WhatsApp – now they criticise them for not using WhatsApp.”
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