‘I don’t buy it’: Scottish secretary dismisses Sturgeon’s tears at Covid inquiry

Rishi Sunak’s Scottish secretary Alister Jack has rejected Nicola Sturgeon’s claim she did not seek to politicise the Covid crisis – claiming he “didn’t believe her for a minute”.

The former SNP leader fought back tears at the Covid Inquiry on Wednesday – rejecting accusations she fought with the UK government to advance the Scottish independence cause.

But the Conservative cabinet minister poured scorn on Ms Sturgeon’s claims, as he appeared to mock her tearful performance.

“I watched that evidence from yesterday and I didn’t believe it for a minute,” Mr Jack told the Covid inquiry hearing in Edinburgh on Thursday.

The senior Tory MP added: “I think Nicola Sturgeon could cry from one eye if she wanted to.”

Amid ongoing controversy over the SNP-led government’s approach to message deletion, Mr Jack admitted that he had deleted “all” of his WhatsApp messages in November 2021.

“I deleted WhatsApps from my mother, my wife, my friends – I mean I just deleted all my WhatsApps – because that created the capacity that allowed my phone to carry on,” he said. “At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.”

Scottish Secretary Alister Jack gives evidence to Covid inquiry (PA Media)
Scottish Secretary Alister Jack gives evidence to Covid inquiry (PA Media)

Similar argument to Ms Sturgeon, Mr Jack played down the significance of messages – telling the inquiry he did not conduct “government by WhatsApp” and preferred to speak to colleagues on the phone or face to face.

Apologising, he added: “I’m a bit of a luddite – I’m the only member of the Cabinet not to have any social media accounts. But that’s no excuse – I regret that I deleted my entire account.”

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross – who has accused Ms Sturgeon of being a “liar” and a “fraud” – said Mr Jack had been “wrong” to delete all his WhatsApp messages.

Mr Ross said: “Alister Jack was wrong to delete his WhatsApp messages. He has apologised and he regrets it. Nicola Sturgeon has not apologised for doing it. She has said she was right because she was following government policy. That is a massive difference.”

Meanwhile, Mr Jack argued that it was “inevitable there would be tensions” between the Scottish and UK governments – but blamed the former SNP leader and first minister.

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Ms Sturgeon had vehemently denied that she had politicised the pandemic to pursue Scottish independence, saying it would “absolutely” have been a betrayal of the Scottish public.

But messages between Ms Sturgeon and her top adviser Liz Lloyd showed they had discussed a “good old-fashioned rammy” with Boris Johnson’s government over the furlough scheme.

And Sturgeon cabinet meeting minutes from June 2020 show that her ministers agreed to consider how the Covid crisis could be used to boost support for Scottish independence.

“[Ms Sturgeon] saw her job as leader of a nationalist government to break up the UK,” Mr Jack told the inquiry, before saying tensions with the Scottish government “still existed”.

He added: “Devolution works very well but works very well when both governments want to work together. But when one government wants to destroy the UK and destroy devolution, then there are tensions.”

Ms Sturgeon was questioned in her inquiry evidence session about her government’s decision not to disclose an outbreak of Covid in Scotland in February 2020 to the public – a decision she said she would reverse in hindsight.

Mr Jack said the UK government was also not informed of the outbreak, despite both he and then UK health secretary Matt Hancock having spoken to then Scottish health secretary Jeane Freeman.

He said: “Another thing that had happened at that meeting that had come to light in May, that despite being with the health secretary for two hours, at no point did she mention that they had discovered an outbreak at the Nike conference in Edinburgh.”