Nicola Sturgeon: Former first minister told to make statement on recording of Covid WhatsApps over 'zero' message retention

Opposition parties say the SNP government has ‘huge questions’ to answer about WhatsApp messages during the coronavirus pandemic

Nicola Sturgeon is being told to make a personal statement to Parliament over how her WhatsApp messages were recorded during the coronavirus pandemic.

In response to a Freedom of Information request from the think-tank These Islands, the Scottish Government confirmed “zero” full WhatsApp messages from Ms Sturgeon were transferred to the electronic records and document management system during the pandemic.

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While giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in Edinburgh last month, Ms Sturgeon said she had deleted her WhatsApp messages in line with government guidance. Instead she had listed the “salient” points of her messages on the official corporate record and didn’t routinely use WhatsApp to conduct government business, the former first minister had said.

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Image: Andrew Milligan/Press Association.Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Image: Andrew Milligan/Press Association.
Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon. Image: Andrew Milligan/Press Association.

The FOI response also confirms no full WhatsApp messages were transferred to this electronic system by First Minister Humza Yousaf, former deputy first minister John Swinney, former finance secretary Kate Forbes, or former health secretary Jeane Freeman.

Asked as part of the FOI for a breakdown of messages transferred to the electronic records and document management (eRDM) by Ms Sturgeon and other key ministers from January 2020 onwards, These Islands was told in each case “the answer is zero”.

However, this does not mean information contained within WhatsApps was not entered into the corporate record. The Scottish Government said it did not "as a matter of course" record the type of medium used for communications, and so it did not hold the information requested.

Scottish Labour had said the SNP government has “huge questions” to answer over the recording of informal messages.

Dame Jackie Baillie, the party’s deputy leader, said: “The culture of secrecy and cover up at the heart of the SNP Government is becoming more stark by the day.

“The SNP Government still has huge questions to answer, including why it failed to live up to its promise of transparency.”

The Scottish Lib Dems are have called for Ms Sturgeon to make an official statement on this in Holyrood.

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Party leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “One year on from Sturgeon’s resignation and it seems this SNP Government is running out of excuses."

He added: “One of the biggest scandals in Scottish political history is unfolding in front of us. If the former first minister has any shred of respect left for public life, she should heed my party’s calls to make a personal statement to Parliament and stop dodging questions.”

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy said: “This latest eye-opening discovery surrounding Nicola Sturgeon’s use of WhatsApp raises further very serious questions for her. It looks as though the former first minister may well have misled the public inquiry and the public with her contradictory evidence.”

Mr Hoy added: “Nicola Sturgeon owes it to grieving families to urgently explain why messages were not transferred as we know that formal decisions were taken on WhatsApp.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government has a well-established and overarching records management policy in accordance with the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 and assured by the Keeper of the Records of Scotland.

“As the FOI review makes clear, there is no requirement for the form of communication to be recorded when saving information to the corporate record.”

In a statement issued on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved group last month, lead solicitor Aamer Anwar had described the deletion of the WhatsApp messages as being on an "industrial scale," adding that it was a "devastating betrayal of the many promises made by the Scottish Government for full transparency and disclosure".

Mr Yousaf has committed to an externally-led review into the use of mobile messaging apps and non-corporate technology in the Scottish Government.



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