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"If you cover-up, you're going to get caught."
The destruction of evidence requested by the Covid inquiries is a genuine scandal.
SNP Ministers should watch more prestige TV.
If they did they might have caught some of the drama commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of Watergate. If they had watched, say, Gaslit or White House Plumbers, they would have been reminded of the central lesson of that scandal. In Nixon’s words: “It's the cover-up that hurts…If you cover-up, you're going to get caught."
Earlier this week the Counsel to the UK Covid Inquiry raised the alarm. He said that, although witness statements had been clear that WhatsApp and other informal electronic communications had been used to discuss the Scottish Government pandemic response, in contrast to UK government departments “very few messages appear to have been retained.” The highlights of his comments on the SNP Government’s sharing of evidence are worth watching.
When it was reported that Jason Leitch had destroyed every single WhatsApp message sent during the pandemic the reaction was anger and astonishment. This morning it was reported that Humza Yousaf, Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney have also destroyed their discussions around the handling of Covid. The reaction should be complete fury at an arrogant and unaccountable government.
As I wrote in an earlier edition, there are very serious questions for the Scottish Government and its officials to answer. The families of the thousands who died now will not get the full answers they deserve. This is now a full-blown scandal.
Watergate-style, let’s listen to the tapes. This is from Nicola Sturgeon’s press conference on 24th August 2021:
Ciaran Jenkins: “Can you guarantee to the bereaved families that you will disclose emails, WhatsApps, private emails if you’ve been using them. Whatever. That nothing will be off limits in this inquiry?”
Nicola Sturgeon: “I think if you understand statutory public inquiries you would know that even if I wasn’t prepared to give that assurance, which, for the avoidance of doubt, I am, then I wouldn’t have the ability. This will be a judge-led public inquiry.”
From May 2020, Nicola Sturgeon had committed to a public inquiry. So we are left with two possibilities.
Nicola Sturgeon lied at this press conference in 2021 when she promised to disclose all WhatsApp messages to that public inquiry, knowing she had already deleted all her messages.
Nicola Sturgeon pledged to disclose all WhatsApp messages and then proceeded to delete them all at a later date.
Both possibilities are utterly damning.
Tricky Dicky was famously asked by David Frost why he didn’t destroy the White House tapes that incriminated him. He replied:
“I didn't destroy them because I felt if at a later time, that had I done so, it would have been an open admission, or at least appeared to be an admission - well, I'm trying to cover something up.”
Tricky Nicky, it seems didn’t share such concerns.
Her successor as First Minister, it is reported today, has also destroyed his messages. Let’s return to the tapes, this time from the Scottish Parliament in June:
Anas Sarwar: “Will the First Minister confirm that all ministers and officials, past and present, have complied with the do not destroy instruction? Will he give a guarantee that all requested emails, texts and WhatsApp messages will be handed over in full to the inquiry?”
Humza Yousaf: “Yes, they will…to ensure that there is simply no doubt whatsoever, any material that is asked for—WhatsApp messages, emails, Signal messages, Telegram messages or whatever—will absolutely be handed over to the Covid inquiries and handed over to them in full.”
Again there are two possibilities: The First Minister either lied to the Scottish Parliament knowing that he had destroyed his WhatsApp messages, or he gave this commitment and destroyed the messages in the last few months.
The SNP line on this has been to claim that they did not use WhatsApp to discuss important Covid-related business. Here is the problem: evidence from senior decision makers within the SNP Government to the UK public inquiry have testified that they did. As the Counsel for the Inquiry said this week:
The UK Inquiry had identified 137 message groups they were interested in. Imagine how damaging those thousands upon thousands of deleted messages must have been. Perhaps we’ll get some flavour of it as the Inquiries discuss the minority of messages not destroyed.
Every time the SNP pose as the champions of Scottish democracy from now on, they should be reminded of their role in obstructing democratic accountability.