Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison have been accused of misleading parliament after it emerged the Scottish Government initially withheld evidence to the UK Covid Inquiry.

Both the First Minister and his deputy told Holyrood last week that the Inquiry had asked the Scottish Government for pandemic-related WhatsApp messages in September.

However, at the Inquiry’s request, the Government today published a full timeline showing the Inquiry had actually first asked for WhatsApp messages in February.

The Scottish Government had then failed to hand over any WhatsApps when it gave its final response to the Inquiry in June.

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It was only after the Inquiry pushed for more information that the Government acknowledged there had been 137 Covid-related WhatsApp chat groups.

After a second request for WhatsApps in September, more than 14,000 messages were finally handed over to the Inquiry on Monday of this week.

Scottish Conservative Leader Douglas Ross said: “It's clear that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister misled parliament last week when they claimed that ministers were only asked to hand over WhatsApp messages in the last few weeks.

“Both must immediately set the record straight and explain why they peddled this lie.

“The continued misinformation, evasion and lack of transparency from SNP ministers past and present is an insult to those who lost loved ones during the pandemic.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “This timeline directly contradicts statements made by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister.

“The only thing clearer is the extent to which this shambolic government has lost control trying to cover up the truth and obstruct those seeking it.”

The timeline appears to contradict what Mr Yousaf told FMQs last week. 

He said: “It is crucial to say that, when the UK Government inquiry asked us in June for details of the various WhatsApp groups concerning Covid 19, it did not request the messages themselves. 

“The messages were asked for in September, just a matter of weeks ago. 

“The Scottish Government then asked for a section 21 order [covering data protection] because of the personal information in some of those messages, and that was received. 

“Now, of course, we will meet the deadline of 6 November to hand over 14,000 messages in unredacted form.”

Ms Robison also told Holyrood last week that the Inquiry asked “in September” for WhatsApps messages.

However the timeline says the Inquiry asked the Government on 4 November last year about the extent to which there was “informal or private communication about significant decision-making, including for example whether there were WhatsApp groups (or other forms of group chats) which key decision-makers used to communicate”. 

On February 2 this year, the Inquiry then sent a formal “Rule 9” request to the Government for “key communications and significant correspondence, including WhatsApp messages” relating to the pandemic response in Scotland and key decisions.

It said: “Please provide any communications relating to key decisions, including internal and external emails, text messages or WhatsApp messages (on Scottish Government and private or personal devices), held by the Scottish Government.”

But instead of supplying the WhatsApp messages it held, the Scottish Government submitted draft responses through the spring “that made clear that all key decisions and decision making were recorded on the Scottish Government corporate record”. 

Crucially, “no WhatsApp messages were submitted as part of those responses”.

The draft responses were then finalised at the end of June.

Dissatisfied, the Inquiry then issued a further specific request to the Scottish Government on June 22 asking for details of its policies on informal messaging for government business.

This request “sought specific information about the use of WhatsApp groups concerned with the Covid-19 response, including those used for coordination, logistics, ad hoc or day-to-day communications, as well as those that discussed decision making or policy”. 

It asked for the names of any such groups, their members, their roles, active dates, and the quantity of messages per group, as well as an indication of the topics.  

The Government submitted draft responses on 29 August.

After receiving the list of 137 WhatsApp groups, the Inquiry asked - again - in September “to be provided with the messages contained within those groups”.

That appears to be the reference Mr Yousaf made in parliament to a request in September, however his answer omitted mention of the initial request in February.

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The Inquiry also sent so-called Rule 9 requests for information to individual Ministers, former Ministers and civil servants requesting evidence concerning WhatsApp and informal communications with Cabinet Secretaries, Ministers, senior civil servants or advisers and “asking for copies of such messages to be provided” in July and August 2023.

It was not until October 5 that the Scottish Government asked the Inquiry to issue a Section 21 order that insured it against a data protection breach before releasing its WhatsApps.

The order was issued on October 30 and 14,000 WhatsApps shared on November 6.

These “corporate” messages came from groups of three or more people, at least one of whom was a civil servant, meaning Scottish ministerial group chats were excluded.

At the end of last week’s FMQs, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross raised a point of order to challenge Mr Yousaf saying the WhatsApps had been requested in September.

He quoted Inquiry counsel Jamie Dawson KC saying the first requests had been last year and asked for Mr Yousaf to correct the record. 

Just after 5pm today, Ms Robison made a point of order at Holyrood.

She said: “The UK Covid Inquiry has asked us to set out in more detail the full timetable of requests for information of the Scottish Government further to my statement last week. 

“So today the Scottish Government has answered a GIQ [Government inspired question] on this matter setting out the timetable as requested, and I wish to bring this to the attention of the chamber.”

A Government source acknowledged the Inquiry had asked for the timeline to be published as it considered the Government's account incomplete.

However they denied parliament had been misled, noting that Ms Robison last week told MSPs "the initial requests that were received from the UK inquiry focused on decision making", and Government decisions were made in minuted meetings and formal submissions to ministers not on WhatsApp.