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Review of WhatsApp use could be extended to rest of UK, says Yousaf

08 Feb 2024 3 minute read
WhatsApp on a smartphone.

A review into the use of WhatsApp and informal communications announced by Scotland’s First Minister could be widened to include the UK Government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Humza Yousaf said his Deputy First Minister Shona Robison has written to the other administrations to urge them to be part of the review.

He announced the review after it emerged senior Scottish Government figures – including former first minister Nicola Sturgeon – had deleted their WhatsApp messages from the time of the Covid pandemic.

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry he too had deleted his messages, explaining he had wiped all WhatsApps to free up space on the mobile phone he had at the time.

Mr Yousaf hit out at the UK Government over its failure to hand over WhatsApp messages to the inquiry, as he revealed the review could be widened.

Inquiry

Speaking in Holyrood, he said: “Given that we have heard the former prime minister, the current Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Scotland were unable to provide the UK Covid Inquiry with any WhatsApps due to them having been deleted, the Deputy First Minister has written to the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the new Northern Irish Executive to invite them to participate in this externally-led review.”

He also vowed his Government will “fully co-operate” with work by Scottish Information Commissioner David Hamilton, who recently launched his own investigation into WhatsApp and informal messages.

Mr Hamilton announced the action as he said the “failure to retain or even record a complete set of the decision-making processes” had not only deprived the inquiry of information but had also more “generally undermined the spirit of freedom of information”.

Mr Yousaf confirmed the Scottish Government had received details of the commissioner’s request on Wednesday afternoon.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, he told MSPs: “We will of course fully co-operate with the commissioner’s office once we have considered its content fully.”

His comments come in the wake of criticism of the Scottish Government over the deletion of messages by key figures, including Ms Sturgeon, former deputy first minister John Swinney and national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch.

Giving her evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry when it sat in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said that from 2007 – the year the SNP came into power at Holyrood – she did not keep messages on her phone for security reasons.

Messages

This, she insisted, was in line with Scottish Government policy, with the key points from the messages placed on the Government’s official record.

However other ministers, including Mr Yousaf, have been able to supply messages to the inquiry.


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