Sturgeon admits WhatsApp use ‘too common’ – but says COVID decisions not made over app


Nicola Sturgeon has admitted that the Scottish government’s use of WhatsApp was “too common” during the COVID pandemic – but says decisions were not made over the messaging app.

Scotland’s former first minister is giving evidence at the COVID Inquiry as it probes the devolved administration’s response to the pandemic.

Ms Sturgeon told the inquiry that the Scottish government was open, transparent and accountable during the pandemic, but admitted it “will not have got every decision right” and “will have made misjudgements”.

She said: “Openness and transparency with the Scottish public was very important to me from the outset of the pandemic.

“I communicated to the public on a daily basis for a lengthy period of time.

“We will not have got every decision right, and we will have made misjudgements, and there will be undoubtedly instances put to me today where, on reflection, I will think that we could have been more transparent than we were.

“But given the nature of the emergency that we were confronted with, building a relationship of trust with the public was important.

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“And in my view, then and in my view now, that had to be built on a spirit of openness.”

COVID Inquiry live: Nicola Sturgeon gives evidence

Ms Sturgeon said use of WhatsApp was “too common” but maintained that she did not use informal messaging apps for decision-making.

She said: “I have not said, and I’m not saying today, that I never used informal means of communication. What I am saying is that I did so very rarely and not to discuss issues of substance or anything that could be described as decision-making.

“There was a high degree of formality around the decision-making of the Scottish government.”

Ms Sturgeon, who was a near-constant presence on the nation’s TV during the pandemic, announced her shock resignation as SNP leader and first minister in February 2023.

In June, she was arrested and later released without charge amid an ongoing police investigation into the SNP’s funding and finances.

And now, her leadership and competence during the pandemic is under scrutiny – with accusations of secrecy and an inclination to hoard power.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon holds a COVID-19 press briefing in St Andrew..s House, Edinburgh, where she confirmed a further eight people have died in Scotland as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, taking the total to 33. PA Photo. Picture date: Friday March 27, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Michael Schofield/The Sun/PA Wire
Ms Sturgeon was a near-constant presence on the nation’s TV during the pandemic. Pic: PA

Highlights from Ms Sturgeon’s evidence:
• Ms Sturgeon said the impact of decisions she made throughout the pandemic will stay with her forever.
• She said she did not recall receiving an email in August 2021 about the importance of retaining relevant material to the work of the inquiry.

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The inquiry is currently sitting in Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon’s evidence comes amid ongoing scrutiny over messages exchanged by ministers and officials during the pandemic.

The inquiry has already heard how the former first minister and her deputy John Swinney failed to retain their WhatsApp messages, although Ms Sturgeon later said correspondence had been handed over after being saved by recipients.

Professor Sir Gregor Smith, Scotland’s chief medical officer, told colleagues to delete WhatsApp messages “at the end of every day”, while national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch described the daily deletion of messages a “pre-bed ritual”.

Messages presented at the inquiry have included Ms Sturgeon branding then prime minister Boris Johnson a “f****** clown”, and the then justice secretary Humza Yousaf describing the Scottish Police Federation a “disgrace”.

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