Swinney told to ‘make amends’ to Covid bereaved if he becomes first minister

John Swinney must “make amends” to the Covid bereaved for deleting key WhatsApp messages if he is to become Scotland’s next first minister, the Liberal Democrats have said.

The former deputy first minister is the likely candidate to replace Humza Yousaf in the top job next week after others ruled themselves out of the contest.

But Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has told the Perthshire North MSP, who served as Nicola Sturgeon’s deputy during the pandemic, to “overhaul government transparency” if he is selected for the role.

In January, Mr Swinney admitted to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry that he “manually” deleted informal messages between himself and Ms Sturgeon in accordance with Scottish Government guidance.

The Scottish Government has since said it is committed to learning lessons, with a review into the use of WhatsApp and other communications announced.

However, Mr Cole-Hamilton has said: “When he set out his leadership bid earlier this week, John Swinney said that his values are based on helping some of the most vulnerable people in our society. If he is serious about that then he must make amends to all those whose lives were ripped apart by Covid.

“It was John Swinney who deleted his pandemic messages, alongside Nicola Sturgeon and other members of her top team. By doing so, they undermined the work of both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries and deprived all those who lost loved ones of the answers and understanding they are searching for.

“Lives and livelihoods hinged on the decisions that John Swinney acknowledged were happening “at an absolutely ferocious pace”. To erase the discussion that underpinned them smacks of a government that had little care for accountability and was covering its tracks.

“If John Swinney does become the next first minister, he must explain to the Covid inquiries and to families how he will overhaul government transparency and record keeping to finally end the culture of secrecy that has existed for 17 years.”

A spokesman for Mr Swinney said: “Mr Swinney’s deepest sympathies are with all those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.

“Mr Swinney addressed the subject of message retention during an extensive evidence session at the Covid Inquiry. While giving evidence, Mr Swinney made clear that he acted in-line with the existing Scottish Government policy at that point in time.”

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