WHY THE DELETION OF STURGEON’S COVID WHATSAPP MESSAGES COULD BE HER BIGGEST SCANDAL YET - Alex Cole-Hamilton

​I still remember the exact moment that the horror and the enormity of the Covid emergency dawned on me. It was February 2020 and the then Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood told a high-level meeting at which I was present that the Government had just started requisitioning private and commercial ice rinks.
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, arrives ahead of a Covid briefing at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh in 2021First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, arrives ahead of a Covid briefing at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh in 2021
First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, arrives ahead of a Covid briefing at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood, Edinburgh in 2021

I asked why they needed ice rinks and was told solemnly “we simply don’t have the mortuary capacity for the number of people who are going to die.”

From that moment it was clear to me, that as legislators, we were about to face the biggest crisis not just since devolution, but of our lifetimes. What followed was mass mortality, vast economic and social upheaval and unprecedented restrictions on personal liberty.

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Huge, society changing laws were passed by parliament in a matter of days which handed more power to Scottish ministers than they had ever been given before. They used those powers on a daily basis to restrict our lives and interactions, all in the name of fighting the virus.

From the start it was clear to everyone that a day would come when the use of those powers and the decisions taken would be scrutinised by a public inquiry. It was even discussed in the foothills of the pandemic, both in those high level meetings and on the floor of the Scottish Parliament.

At a time when the enmity of party politics was largely suspended, Nicola Sturgeon agreed that she would one day have to account for the decisions of her government and seemed to welcome the idea of that scrutiny.

That made it all the more astonishing that Jamie Dawson KC, the lead counsel in the Scotland segment of the UK Covid Inquiry revealed that none of the WhatsApp messages sent by Nicola Sturgeon or her ministers had been produced to the inquiry despite repeated requests to do so dating back to 2022.

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It now transpires that she and many of the key protagonists in Government at the time were in fact deleting those messages as they went, Humza Yousaf himself has even revealed that it was government policy to 'routinely delete' WhatsApp messages.

This is a bizarre suggestion. The government's records management policy is very clear that material should be retained for as long as necessary to support business requirements and legal obligations.

The idea of a ‘delete as you go’ order on messages that could have proved intrinsic to the decisions that shaped our pandemic response is an outrage.

Without these messages we may never know the mind of Nicola Sturgeon or her ministers as they took decisions to decant Covid-positive and untested patients into care homes that didn’t have PPE. We won’t understand why Scotland’s lockdowns were always that bit harsher or longer than England’s. Was it the science or the politics that shaped her thinking? We may never know.

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What we do know is that even Boris Johnson, EVEN BORIS JOHNSON, handed his messages over to the UK inquiry. That Nicola Sturgeon should seek to dodge scrutiny and worse, deny answers to grieving families would make Richard Nixon blush and could represent one of the biggest scandals in Scottish political history.