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David Knight: Scottish Government Covid WhatsApp messages should be made public

Bereaved families and the Scottish public deserve the whole truth about Holyrood's handling of the Covid pandemic.

The Scottish Government is due to submit over 14,000 messages, mainly WhatsApps, to the UK Covid Inquiry. Image: oasisamuel/Shutterstock
The Scottish Government is due to submit over 14,000 messages, mainly WhatsApps, to the UK Covid Inquiry. Image: oasisamuel/Shutterstock

I’ve never been much good at getting rid of old receipts and emails or various other digital communications such as texts and WhatsApp messages.

I think it’s my natural caution not to let anything go; it might prove important one day. It’s hard to see why, though, when I sift through them from time to time.

There is a lot of important legal-type stuff hiding in among them, too, but it’s somewhat swamped by the rubbish.

My mountain of paper receipts has some gems. Why on earth do I still have a receipt for a Christmas tree I bought in 2020? Or that garden bench from 18 months ago; it’s hardly likely that we are going to take it back for an exchange after all this time. Or that they would want to give us one anyway after the brutal ravages of Storm Babet swirling up our garden path.

Battery receipts for watches are another thing – I have piles of them.

The reason is that I seem to recall I can claim a free replacement battery if they pack up within 18 months. The trouble is that time flies so fast that I forget to check.

My WhatsApps are the same: unlike some Scottish Government ministers and important health officials who appear to have jettisoned their essential records of Covid communications, I just can’t let go.

Mine is cluttered with videos of Mindy, our miniature schnauzer, on various walks – sent to us by the woman she boards with while we are on holiday. And I have a long trail of communications with my gardener, which began during Covid. It covers all his work during two years of visits, but I doubt if any Covid public inquiry or research project will ask for this correspondence; it’s there if they need it, though.

I’m not letting Jet2 off the hook

What I’m definitely not letting go of are my furious messages back and forth with airline company Jet2. Their baggage handlers managed to destroy our pride and joy – our almost new cream-coloured suitcase which had only ventured out of our house once before.

As it rolled through the flaps of the baggage carousel in Edinburgh after landing from the Canaries, it looked like a harpoon had been thrown at it. A jagged gaping hole marked the spot.

A bad experience with an airline called for the careful logging of messages. Image: Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

After a flurry of messages between us, they agreed to replace it with a new one. Only it would have to be black or grey, not cream.

You’d think with the dazzling array of products they try to flog you on board, they would have more choice of replacement cases. They had nothing even vaguely cream in mind – so, we declined.

But these are the type of messages I should be keeping. It’s a matter of knowing what is important, isn’t it? Just a little common sense.

Odd how some ministers kept messages while others deleted everything

Perhaps this is not as obvious to those in the service of the Scottish Government.

Far be it for me to suggest they had anything to hide over the SNP’s handling of
Covid; an innocent mistake, perchance? Or maybe one eye on the inevitable blame game which would follow.

It’s odd how some kept everything for possible public scrutiny at a future date, and others didn’t.

Kate Forbes might glow like Little Goody Two-Shoes after announcing she kept her Covid WhatsApps, but she captures the public appetite for transparency and accountability

It seems government advice at the time was to delete business WhatsApps on a regular basis, but surely that meant routine stuff – not life or death matters of intense public interest? Especially to the families of loved ones sent to die in residential “care” homes.

Let’s consider Kate Forbes’s messages; the woman who many still believe is the perfect candidate to lead the SNP to a new era away from toxic division.

Kate might glow like Little Goody Two-Shoes after announcing she kept her Covid WhatsApps, but she captures the public appetite for transparency and accountability.

Public have a right to see all Covid-related government WhatsApp exchanges

If they had treated Covid messages with the same care as personal information about their gold-plated government pensions – or as though their own loved ones’ lives were at stake – things might be different.

Sickening WhatsApp exchanges between top Westminster politicians and officials offer essential insights into hidden attitudes and ineptitudes of those leading us.

At around the same time as this, Nicola Sturgeon postured at daily briefings, with health boss Jason Leitch in tow. Both face searching questions about the destiny of their WhatsApp output.

Jason Leitch and former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during a Covid briefing in January 2021. Image: Scottish Government

The briefings were a free shot for Sturgeon to project herself as a stateswoman handling Covid better than London – with an added bonus of polishing perceptions that she was a leader-in-waiting for an independent Scotland. All that came crashing down in spectacular fashion.

People have a right to see all Covid-related WhatsApp exchanges between government ministers and officials – and Scotland’s regulatory information commissioner thinks the same. Bereaved families and the Scottish public deserve a day of reckoning – any hint of ducking and diving is an insult which will never be forgiven or forgotten.


David Knight is the long-serving former deputy editor of The Press and Journal

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