The Scottish Government will keep its promise to hand over 14,000 WhatsApp messages to the UK Covid inquiry later today, a cabinet minister has said.

Neil Gray said he “fully expects” the Government to meet the deadline to deliver the material in line with commitments made to the Scottish Parliament last week. 

“We’re not holding back here,” the Wellbeing Economy Secretary told BBC Radio Scotland.

However Mr Gray was unable to say which ministers had complied with individual requests from the Inquiry for their messages.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said it was "astonishing" for the SNP to boast of  transparency when former leader Nicola Sturgeon may have destroyed potential evidence.

First Minister Humza Yousaf and former Finance Secretary Kate Forbes have both confirmed they retained their WhatsApp messages from the pandemic and would hand them over.

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But Ms Sturgeon has repeatedly refused to say whether she deleted her messages, despite being the key decision maker north of the border at the time.

National clinical director Professor Jason Leith and chief medical officer Dr Sir Gregor Smith have also failed to deny press reports that they also deleted their WhatsApps. 

Last month, counsel to the UK Inquiry Jamie Dawson KC said “no messages” from the Scottish Government’s 137 Covid-related WhatsApp groups had yet been provided.

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison, who is in charge of the Scottish Government’s response to the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries, updated Holyrood on the issue last week.

She told MSPs on October 31 that the Government had asked for and received a Section 21 order from the Inquiry to avoid contravening data protection laws by releasing WhatsApps.

She said: “That order came in yesterday, and those 14,000 WhatsApp messages will be given to the inquiry by the deadline of 6 November.”

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Mr Gray said today: “Humza Yousaf the First Minister has confirmed he is going to be handing over all of his WhatsApp messages.

“Today, I fully expect we will be handing over 14,000, we’re not holding back here, we’re fully co-operating with these inquiries, we’ve got nothing to hide.

“We’re fully confident in the information that we will be handing over and it will be up to the inquiry, both inquiries, to disseminate the information in the way they see fit.”

He added: “The First Minister gave a commitment last week that we would meet the deadline by today and I fully expect that to happen.”

He said the messages were in addition to 19,000 documents already given to the inquiries.

He added: “This has been a complex situation.

“We’re looking to make sure that we are fully complying with inquiries because understandably there are families here who have lost loved ones who want to know what has happened in terms of the decisions that were taken, why those decisions were taken, and we want to make sure we’re giving people those answers.”

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Although the Government has emphasised the volume of WhatsApp messages, 14,000 is equivalent to barely one message per week for each of the 137 groups over two years.

Besides the arithmetic suggesting an incomplete picture, the material only covers “corporate” groups defined as three or more people at least one of whom is a civil servant.

It does not include group chats purely between ministers, nor one-to-one conversations. 

As well as the Government material handed over under the Section 21 order, individual ministers and officials have been asked separately for their evidence under a process known as Rule 9.

It was the Rule 9 request to Ms Sturgeon which led to reports about her being unable to hand over WhatsApps as they had been deleted.

Mr Ross said: “It is astonishing that Neil Gray – a senior member of the SNP government – can claim his party have nothing to hide in relation to the UK Covid Inquiry.

“That is the same weak excuse his former leader Nicola Sturgeon used last week while still refusing to say whether she has deleted any WhatsApp messages.

“The former First Minister still hasn’t come clean despite her successor and Kate Forbes confirming they have retained their messages from during the pandemic period.

“Neil Gray’s responses treat those grieving the loss of a loved one and who are desperate for answers with contempt. His party introduced an auto-delete policy on WhatsApp messages, months after being told not to.

“For all of the minister’s boasts about handing over thousands of messages, crucial ones may never see the light of day.

“Claims that the SNP are being transparent simply won’t wash with the public, especially when the Scottish Government’s lead responder to the pandemic, Ms Sturgeon, is still hiding behind process."