Humza Yousaf has said he regrets calling the Scottish Police Federation a disgrace during the early days of the pandemic.

Text messages shown at the UK Covid Inquiry on Thursday, showed the then cabinet secretary for justice in conversation with the former deputy first minister John Swinney, on June 19 2020.

It followed disorder in Glasgow’s George Square when the far-right National Defence League targeted a No Evictions rally calling for better living conditions for refugees.

Large numbers of police were deployed, with the then assistant chief constable Bernard Higgins saying his officers witnessed “people intent on hijacking a peaceful event and intent on violence and thuggery”.

Six people were arrested, with a number of them saying they were there to "protect statues."

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However, the Scottish Police Federation (SPF), suggested those protesting the evictions were as much as fault as the far-right demonstrators.

David Hamilton, who was the SPF chair at the time, said: “There is no moral high ground to be claimed. Right or left; green or blue; unionist or nationalist; statue wrecker or statue protector, your side is as guilty as the other.

"There is no hierarchy of culpability. The sad reality is that there are too many opposing factions who need no excuse to use a protest as an opportunity to cause disorder.”

That statement followed Nicola Sturgeon calling for the far-right group to face the “full force” of the law.

In the messages shared with the inquiry, Mr Swinney said: “I have just caught up with the latest insight into SPF thinking!”

To which Mr Yousaf responded: “They’re a disgrace. Right through this pandemic they have shown an arrogance and retrograde thinking. Chief was livid last night.”

The Herald:

Jamie Dawson asked Mr Yousaf why he said the SPF was a disgrace.

Mr Yousaf said: “I was expressing frustration in a private conversation.

“Sometimes when you are venting to a colleague you use language you regret.”

He said he had not always got along with the previous leadership of the Scottish Police Federation, and would, at time, “have very robust disagreements.”

“My concern in this particular instance, if I remember correctly, was that I didn't think 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.”

He said his concern was never with police officers.

“I have the greatest amount and continue to have the greatest amount of respect. They were absolutely integral to our public health.”

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During the session, Mr Yousaf was also quizzed on Jason Leitch’s advice on getting around the Scottish Government’s own Covid rules during the pandemic.

In an informal message on 19 November 2021, Mr Yousaf, then the health secretary, messaged the National Clinical Director for advice on the rules ahead of a speech at a dinner.

He said: “I know sitting at the table, I don’t need my mask. If I’m standing talking to folk, need my mask on? [sic]”

Prof Leitch responded: “Officially yes. But literally no-one does. Have a drink in your hands at ALL times. Then you’re exempt. So if someone comes over and you stand, lift your drink.”

Asked about the exchange, Mr Yousaf said Prof Leitch was “over speaking”.

He said: “For those that know Jason, I think by his own admission he would perhaps have a casual way of speaking and perhaps over speak as he described it.

“So when he says ‘but literally no one does’ that to me suggested that yes, on this particular nuance when it comes to being at a dinner or a reception that when standing speaking to people there wasn’t people wearing masks as per the guidance we had.”

Mr Yousaf insisted he was seeking counsel on the rules, rather than looking for advice on how to break them.

Mr Dawson asked Mr Yousaf: “If the cabinet secretary for health and social care felt the need to clarify the rules, what chance do others have in understanding the rules?”

Mr Yousaf said: “As the cabinet secretary for health and social care I didn’t want to just double-check the rules, triple check them, I would quadruple check them if I had to, because the intensity of the public scrutiny that we were under.”