This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

What wonders may lie on the Covid-era phone of Boris Johnson and the WhatsApp messages therein? We can only speculate – or rather we can’t because The Herald’s lawyers have made it absolutely clear that’s not allowed.

This week the official government inquiry has been seeking to gain access to chats from the pandemic as they look to examine the decisions that were taken by the government and what led to them.

The former Prime Minister is, we’re told, unable to remember the password for the device in question. Many people use familiar sequences of numbers like a child’s birthday, but to be fair to Mr Johnson you only get so many attempts – and who can remember that many birthdays anyway?

Many would argue it seems vaguely implausible that the leader of the country would have a model of phone so out-dated it doesn’t have fingerprint or facial recognition, but we must take Mr Johnson at his word. After all, surely if such technology were installed it would be a simple matter of finding a slightly beleaguered hay bale and pointing the phone in its general direction.

With a war going on in Eastern Europe involving a nuclear power, it can be of some comfort that the man who, until recently, had his hand on the big red button was likely functionally incapable of accidentally triggering World War III, always assuming the Trident codes aren’t a stanza from some vaguely racist imperial poem which, come to think of it, they probably are.

It now seems government experts may be on the verge of a breakthrough, but there’s reason to suspect the clamouring Twitterati may be disappointed.

While Mr Johnson has said he is happy to share the messages with the inquiry – provided they can access the phone – that doesn’t mean the general public will be able to see what the former Prime Minister was texting to Rishi Sunak in the early days of lockdown, or indeed anything at all.

The Herald:

The Cabinet Office will be able to apply for redactions before the messages are shown to other witnesses, government departments and bereaved families, and the inquiry could apply redactions of its own. It’s plausible, perhaps even likely, a decision will be taken not to make any of the messages public at all.

If that seems unlikely it’s worth noting that the British government did not officially acknowledge the existence of MI6 until 1994, by which point there had been no fewer than 16 James Bond films, and it took until October last year to declassify documents relating to the Profumo Affair, close to 60 years after the initial inquiry.

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Even if the messages are released, the likelihood of finding some sort of Watergate-adjacent smoking gun is low. We can expect to find the initial response to the pandemic both panicked and incompetent but we knew that anyway, likewise “drinks after work? 🍺🍺🍺” wouldn't exactly be a shocking group chat message to discover given what we now know about the culture in Downing Street.

Likewise if you’re of a conspiracy mind it’s possible Johnson revealed plans to install the 5G mind control virus before he shifted to his lizard form, his reptilian claws rendering the touchscreen unusable, but on balance the odds are in favour of banal government chat mixed with some Bullingdon humour.

It is, of course, right that the inquiry be able to assess the actions our leaders took in what was a generational crisis and that Mr Johnson be forced to comply. Just don’t expect fireworks – or at least unredacted ones.

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