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The truth only needs to be told once.
The Covid Inquiry has forced the SNP to admit they were lying about WhatsApp evidence. A story that was about transparency is becoming about trust.
Most people believe that most politicians lie most of the time - but that’s mostly not true.
The art of good political communication lies in not lying. Instead, a skilled politician attempts to reframe a difficult issue and answer the question they wish had been asked rather than the one a journalist or opponent chooses. Ironically the frustrating experience of a politician avoiding a question, that damages trust in politics, is driven by a wish by politicians to avoid dishonesty.
It is a basic of political communication that if there is a damaging truth that, sooner or later, needs to be admitted to, then it is better to get all the damaging information out in one definitive story. One or two days of bad coverage is better than a weeks-long ‘dripping roast’ as details slowly emerge. Better to the painful truth quickly and limit the pain. The SNP political machine may not be what it was but they at least know this. So why can’t they close down this story?
There are some questions though that cannot be reframed, dodged or equivocated over. These are the types of questions that the previous and current First Ministers respectively are refusing to answer around Covid. They cannot answer them truthfully because to do so would reveal earlier lies.
Nicola Sturgeon had claimed she couldn’t say whether she had deleted her pandemic messages because The Covid Inquiry had told her not to answer. When the Inquiry said she could answer she simply decided to ignore the question. To confirm that she has deleted them would reveal that she was lying when she promised she would keep them and that Yousaf was lying when he promised everything The Inquiry asked for would be handed over.
Similarly, Humza Yousaf reacted to the Sunday Mail’s story that he had not retained his WhatsApp messages by saying he had no idea where the story had come from and that he would hand over his messages. It subsequently emerged that he had found an old phone “relatively recently” that still had the messages on it.
So, when he responded to the Sunday Mail story denying that he had disposed of his messages, it turned out he only kept them by accident. So, had he originally informed the Inquiry that they had been lost? Like Nicola Sturgeon, Humza Yousaf now says only the Inquiry can ask that question - despite Gina Davidson of LBC standing in front of him and asking it. To confirm that truth would expose his earlier attempt to mislead.
The clearest sign that politicians are trying to conceal something from us is when their story changes over time. The truth only needs to be told once. An untruth needs to be told over and over again; embellished as the details of the falsehood fall apart.
The SNP’s account of what information would be kept, has been kept, and will be handed over has changed every time a new story emerges. The most recent revision came last night as The Inquiry seemingly demanded that the SNP Government correct the record on when the WhatsApp messages were requested. In an answer to a government-initiated Parliamentary Question, the SNP has now admitted that:
“On 2 February 2023 the Inquiry sent a final version of the Rule 9 Request referred to above. This included requests for key communications and significant correspondence, including WhatsApp messages…Similar Rule 9 requests were received from the Inquiry in February and March 2023 seeking evidence, including WhatsApp messages, from Scottish Government Directorates.”
As the statement from The Inquiry made clear on the 26th October, despite being asked for messages to be disclosed on multiple occasions, the SNP Government had handed over none of them. To justify this, the government lied over and over again about when messages were requested:
On October 29th, an SNP Government Spokesperson told The Times that after the Government handed over its main evidence that the Inquiry “subsequently asked for WhatsApp messages relating to logistics and day-to-day communication, which we are working to provide.”
On October 31st, Shona Robison told Holyrood that an initial request to outline what WhatsApp groups existed “was followed in September by a request for the actual messages that were exchanged within those groups.”
She went on to say: “in September the inquiry asked for the individual messages, so it is not correct to say that it has been a year since that request was made; it has been just over a month.”
On 2nd November Humza Yousaf told Holyrood: “It is crucial to say that, when the UK Government inquiry asked us in June for details of the various WhatsApp groups concerning Covid 19, it did not request the messages themselves. The messages were asked for in September, just a matter of weeks ago.”
On the 6th November, Neil Gray told the BBC: “there was the clarification that came in September around the further information that the Inquiry was looking for.”
The First Minister, his Deputy, a Cabinet Secretary, an SNP Frontbencher and the Government’s official spokesperson all repeated the lie. What could be so damaging that they are willing to undermine trust in so many people to avoid seeing it?
Each time A Minister misleads Parliament and refuses to correct the record, each time they lie to a journalist, trust is further eroded. When the next story breaks on this issue - whether on legal advice, the use of party emails or something else - nobody will believe the answers given.
In case you missed it…
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The Minister whose government has cut four out of every ten bus services since coming to power says people living in cities in Scotland don’t need a car. That will also be the Minister who regularly uses her ministerial car to travel around cities in Scotland?
Euan McColm writes about the annual choice of the SNP’s MPs to wear a flower in tribute to a fascist.