WOW! If the Hallett Inquiry has been an underwhelming and controversial exercise so far, with limited information to say the least emerging from its protracted and mind-bogglingly expensive sessions, it may have finally delivered a bombshell. It has been confirmed to the inquiry that former First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon deleted her cache of WhatsApp messages from the ‘pandemic’ period in direct contravention of rock-solid promise given on camera, and potentially in contravention of the law.
On Friday the inquiry heard that despite repeated requests Sturgeon had failed to hand over any messages ‘whatsoever’ and that none ‘were retained’ (Sturgeonspeak for ‘I deleted them all’). It has also emerged that another former First Minister, John Swinney, did the same, in his case using an auto- delete function. It is being reported that bereaved families have instructed lawyers to prepare a police complaint and the Information Commissioner’s Officer will be asked to investigate potential breaches of the law.
It is hard to overstate the seriousness of this both ethically and legally. According to the National Records of Scotland: ‘The preservation of the records of government ensures it can be held accountable for its actions, that society can trace the evolution of policy in historical terms and allows access to an important resource for future decision-making.’ In other words, all official communications must be retained. Not to do so is not only highly improper, there is also a significant chance it is criminal under Freedom of Information legislation. The immediate response of the Scottish Covid Bereaved group certainly points to confidence in their case.
As if all that weren’t bad enough, it is further alleged that Sturgeon’s Scottish government discussed how the ‘pandemic’ could be exploited to further the case for independence. Secret minutes from a Scottish Cabinet meeting on June 30 that year stated ministers ‘agreed that consideration be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum . . . with the arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis and developments on EU exit’. Scottish Tory Stephen Kerr has called this revelation ‘disgusting’.
Arguably, this is the hottest of water La Sturgeon has found herself swimming in and for once there appears to be no avenue of escape. For on August 24, 2021, on the announcement of the intention to hold a Scottish covid inquiry, Sturgeon was asked a cleverly worded question by Ciaran Jenkins of Channel 4 News:
‘Can you guarantee to the bereaved families that you will disclose e-mails, WhatsApps, private emails if you’ve been using them, whatever; that nothing will be off limits in this inquiry?’
This was Sturgeon’s typically testy response, destined to haunt her ever after:
‘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 statutory public inquiry.’
She then waffled on about how Scotland was ‘far ahead’ in its commitment to hold an inquiry, i.e. ahead of those awful Westminster buffoons. Thus, Sturgeon not only made a commitment ‘to the bereaved families’ which she has now admitted, perhaps criminally, breaking; she also added credence to the idea that the daily Sturgeon show was an infomercial for a decidedly dodgy product – a second vote on separation. Or perhaps think of it as a product-placement-saturated disaster movie, with Sturgeon as the star of course (Indy Ref 2 and the Zooms of Doom?).
Speculation will now turn to why the messages were deleted. The Scottish government has two areas of especial vulnerability regarding covid. The first was its failure to make public the early outbreak at a Nike conference in Edinburgh. The second was the alleged transfer of infected hospital patients into care homes. Either may lead to criminal cases: unwise references in WhatsApp messages could be extremely serious.
Then there is the possibility that the relatively informal WhatsApp format engendered a looser discourse than was either professional or wise. One can imagine speculation as to how any perceived advantage in Scotland’s covid response could be utilised to promote independence. In other words, the same sort of ‘othering’ and strategising the SNP indulge in every single day, only this time in the context of a ‘pandemic’ with the dying (for whatever reason), the grieving, the locked down and locked out (of their businesses, their schools, their churches), the desperate and the afraid the pawns in a shabby little game.
What happens next is not just for the lawyers, but also the voters, and it is hard to see how Sturgeon or anyone connected with her government can salvage what is left of their reputations. For once, there is no option of blaming Westminster, no recourse to memory lapses – it’s there on tape for all to see. Sturgeon is, to use the West of Scotland parlance, caught rotten.
By seeking to hide all she has inadvertently revealed all. In the words of former SNP MSP Joan McAlpine: ‘What a fraud that woman is – but such a convincing one.’