Nicola Sturgeon has been branded a “fraud” by one of her own former MSPs for deleting all her pandemic WhatsApps, as the former First Minister sought to address the growing scandal over the messages.
Joan McAlpine, who served for ten years as an SNP MSP, said that Ms Sturgeon was “such a convincing” fraud for deleting her messages despite promises to hand over everything.
After weeks of obfuscation from Ms Sturgeon, it was finally confirmed at the Covid Inquiry on Friday that she had retained “no messages whatsoever” and her deputy John Swinney had used an “auto-delete” function to clear his own WhatsApps.
Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the Inquiry, told the hearing: “Under the box ‘Nicola Sturgeon’, it says that messages were not retained, they were deleted in routine tidying up of inboxes or changes of phones, unable to retrieve messages,” he said. “What that tends to suggest is at the time that request was made, Nicola Sturgeon, the former first minister of Scotland, had retained no messages whatsoever in connection with her management of the pandemic.”
Ms Sturgeon had pledged to be transparent with any Inquiry and in August 2021 when challenged during a press conference to guarantee that all such digital material would be provided and nothing would be “off limits”, Ms Sturgeon said that “for the avoidance of doubt” she would give that assurance.
Sharing a clip of the press conference, Ms McAlipine, who served as a regional list MSP for South Scotland, tweeted: “What a fraud this woman was – but such a convincing one …”
Ms Sturgeon had repeatedly failed to confirm she had deleted WhatsApps or answer questions on why they were deleted.
However amid growing pressure on Ms Sturgeon, she yesterday insisted the Inquiry would see some of her messages and that although she would not give a running commentary she wanted to “there are certain points I feel it important to make clear”.
She said that although messages had not been retained on her own device she was “able to obtain copies” which she submitted last year.
“To be clear, I conducted the Covid response through formal processes from my office in St Andrews House, not through WhatsApp or any other informal messaging platform. I was not a member of any WhatsApp groups. The number of people I communicated with through informal messaging at all was limited.”
The Inquiry was shown a document which said that Ms Sturgeon “did not use at any point during the period physical or electronic notebooks or diaries” and had “nothing to return”.
However she claimed that handwritten notes were kept.
“Also, any handwritten notes made by me were passed to my private office to be dealt with and recorded as appropriate.”
‘Betrayal of Scottish people’
Opposition parties have continued to demand answers. Jackie Baillie, the Scottish Labour deputy leader said: “Nicola Sturgeon’s betrayal of the people of Scotland is disgraceful and shows just how far she has fallen.
“Millions of Scots deserve answers over what happened during the pandemic, particularly those who lost loved ones – potentially criminal deletion of vital messages threatens to prevent this happening.
“Nicola Sturgeon and all others who engaged in this deceitful and secretive practice should have the book thrown at them.”
Craig Hoy MSP, the Scottish Conservative party chairman, said: “Nicola Sturgeon must think the Scottish public are fools if they believe there is nothing untoward here.
“The former First Minister appears to have deliberately and repeatedly deleted her WhatsApp messages and she must have done so for a reason.
“Rather than apologising to the country, she is cynically seeking to deflect attention from the mass deletion of key messages by top ministers and officials.
“If there are no minutes of key Covid meetings, no notes and no messages, how were any decisions made? How are any inquiries supposed to understand the motives, disagreement and discussion behind them?
“Saying there’s no decisions sent by WhatsApp does not inform the public at all.
“This statement is just another instalment in the unravelling of the SNP. The addiction to spin and secrecy must come to an end now.”