UK COVID-19 Inquiry: Humza Yousaf branded Scottish Police Federation a 'disgrace' during pandemic

Humza Yousaf branded the Scottish Police Federation a "disgrace" during the pandemic, a message shown to the UK COVID-19 Inquiry has revealed.

His comment about the SPF - which represents rank-and-file officers - came to light while Scotland's first minister gave evidence to the inquiry on Thursday.

In a message with the then justice secretary Mr Yousaf in June 2020, deputy first minister John Swinney said: "I have just caught up with the latest insight into SPF thinking!"

Mr Yousaf responded: "They're a disgrace. Right through this pandemic they have shown an arrogance and retrograde thinking. Chief (constable) was livid last night."

Jamie Dawson KC, counsel to the inquiry, asked why he described the SPF as a disgrace.

Mr Yousaf replied: "This was me expressing my frustration in what would have been a private conversation with a colleague.

"And sometimes when you are venting those private frustrations to a colleague, you use language that you regret."

Mr Yousaf claimed he had a "good relationship" with the SPF, but they "didn't always get along".

He added that he would at times have "very robust disagreements" with the previous leadership.

Mr Yousaf said: "My concern, in this particular instance if I remember correctly, was that I didn't think that they were being supportive of the chief constable and police officers more generally in relation to enforcement of regulations.

"And I thought that the way they articulated that was deeply, deeply unhelpful."

Mr Yousaf replaced Jeane Freeman as health secretary following the Scottish elections in May 2021 and held that position until becoming first minister last year.

Mr Yousaf told the inquiry that the then first minister Nicola Sturgeon made decisions during the pandemic that were not always "cascaded" to the rest of the cabinet.

He explained that Ms Sturgeon and the "gold command" of top advisers were making decisions in a fast-paced environment with delegated authority and on a "rare" occasion they were not always shared with other ministers.

However, Mr Yousaf said he did "not agree" with the characterisation that the Scottish cabinet was a decision-ratifying body during the pandemic, rather than a decision-making body.

The inquiry was shown a WhatsApp exchange with national clinical director Professor Jason Leitch on the day Mr Yousaf was appointed health secretary in May 2021.

Mr Yousaf told Professor Leitch he was going to take a "deep dive" into concerns over rising COVID cases in the Glasgow area and East Renfrewshire.

Professor Leitch was seen to respond: "Good. There was some FM 'keep it small' shenanigans as always. She actually wants none of us."

Mr Dawson asked: "Was this an indication in fact that the first minister really took decisions in connection with the pandemic herself, or at least would have preferred it that way?"

Mr Yousaf responded it was a "classic example" of Professor Leitch, by his own admission to the inquiry, "over-speaking".

Mr Yousaf described collaboration with the UK government as "frustrating at times", especially in regards to international travel.

He claimed information was sometimes given at the last minute from Downing Street or through a public announcement.

Mr Yousaf also claimed Scottish Secretary Alister Jack made "no contribution" during calls between Westminster and Holyrood in regards to cross-border travel.

In response to questioning from Claire Mitchell KC, Mr Yousaf said the government should have been testing patients leaving hospital during the pandemic to go into care homes sooner than they actually did.

Mr Yousaf's evidence comes amid ongoing scrutiny over messages exchanged by ministers and officials during the pandemic.

Mr Yousaf admitted using his own personal phones alongside government devices to conduct business during the course of the pandemic.

The inquiry has already heard how former first minister Ms Sturgeon and her deputy Mr 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 Professor Leitch described the daily deletion of messages a "pre-bed ritual".

At First Minister's Questions earlier in the day, Mr Yousaf announced there will be an externally-led review into the Scottish government's use of mobile messaging apps and non-corporate technology.

Mr Yousaf denied accusations of "hiding from scrutiny" but accepted the handling of requests for WhatsApp messages had not been his government's "finest hour".

At the inquiry, Mr Yousaf described Holyrood's handling of requests as "frankly poor".

He said: "I apologise unreservedly to the inquiry and to those mourning the loss of a loved one."

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The inquiry is currently sitting in Edinburgh as it probes the devolved administration's response to the pandemic.

Earlier on Thursday, the inquiry was shown a message in which Ms Sturgeon branded then prime minister Boris Johnson a "f****** clown".

The former first minister is scheduled to give evidence to the inquiry next Wednesday.