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Sturgeon’s Covid blunders intensify black cloud hanging over SNP

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

The stench is becoming unbearable and what’s worse is that the suspicions that many of us have had about the rottenness of this SNP Government are being borne out with almost every day that passes. No, not just about its perpetual and damaging obsession with breaking up Britain but about the arrogance that stems from the untrammelled power of 16 years in office.

It has come to a head with the astonishing revelations that while she was first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, as well as her senior ministerial colleagues and civil servants, is said to have casually disposed of WhatsApp messages that provided information about how she ran the response to the Covid pandemic.

That has now led to the families of those who suffered badly from Covid, as well as those who lost loved ones, to demand a police investigation as to whether laws about the retention of such documents and messages had been broken.

On Saturday, Ms Sturgeon admitted that her messages had “not been retained on my own device” but she said she had been able to “obtain copies” of some.

But in many ways a more sobering and shocking example of how cavalier with the truth her administration had become is shown with the emergence of a cabinet minute detailing how Ms Sturgeon and her ministers were considering how to politicise the fight against Covid.

Incredibly, their decision was reached on the very same day as Ms Sturgeon was seen at one of her daily televised press conferences indignantly denying as “nonsense” that any such course of action was being contemplated. Her emphasis was on public health and she added: “Anybody trotting out political or constitutional arguments is in the wrong place completely.”

There we have it: on a June day in 2020, when the death toll from Covid was terrifying the nation and Ms Sturgeon’s daily TV slots – the so-called “Zooms of doom” – had become compulsive viewing, her cabinet was working out how to make political hay from the pandemic. Not how to ease suffering but to score political points.

It can only be imagined how such a move might be viewed among Covid victims everywhere.

Seasoned observers of all parties, including nationalist veterans, have been shocked by the latest revelations, which show just now much “official” Scotland – in the shape of civil servants in St Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government’s Edinburgh headquarters – appears to have been affected by the attitudes of ministerial bosses.

There are few who would disagree with the verdict of Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, who accused the SNP Government of being guilty on an “industrial scale of lying and misleading the public”. He included civil servants in his attack, saying the problem went “beyond a few rotten apples at the top, in terms of ministers”. Mr Sarwar added: “It seems that even government officials were complicit.”

This view has been reinforced by evidence from the Covid Inquiry, which revealed that some officials had informed ministers and senior advisers about how messages are deleted.

Nobody’s laughing at these details, as revealed by these first episodes in the inquiry north of the border. That’s before ministers, including Ms Sturgeon and her senior advisers, begin giving evidence.

As well as possibly facing a criminal investigation over deleted WhatsApp messages from the pandemic, the ­Information Commissioner’s Office is also being asked to investigate “any potential breaches of the law” after the UK inquiry heard on Friday that “no messages whatsoever” had been handed over by Ms Sturgeon.

There is also the small matter of Operation Branchform, the more than two-year-long police investigation into the SNP’s finances – a huge black cloud that is still hanging over Scotland’s governing party.

It is difficult to imagine a more testing period than what’s in store for Humza Yousaf’s team but, in the minds of most observers, they are reaping what they and their predecessors have sown.

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