Former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon gave a tearful performance at the Covid Inquiry today as she tried to explain (or distract from) her misconduct during the pandemic. But St. Nicola’s weeping couldn’t hide the damning truth, says Tom Harris in the Telegraph.
Certainly her tears caught the attention of the headline writers, immediately relegating her testimony’s more damning revelations to second and third paragraph items. Not that that was definitely the plan; just the way it happened to work out.
At the root of her appearance in Edinburgh today is the allegation – explicitly confirmed, though excused, by Sturgeon this morning – that in 2021, when she gave an undertaking to the media to hand over all her WhatsApp messages to a future public inquiry, she already knew that they had been deleted. Sturgeon justified this deliberate act of misleading the public, the media and bereaved families with an unapologetic apology and a baffling word salad that sounded far better than it reads: “And I… you know, as will have been the case on many occasions over the course of not just the Covid pandemic but in my many years in politics… when you’re answering questions you’re trying to answer the substance of the question. And when you look back at the literal terms of the answer it can be put to you in that way, so I accept that.”
If her tears were shed for the death of the use of the English language, they did not fall in vain.
But the punchline was even more revealing: “And I apologise if that answer was not as clear.”
“Not as clear”? Not as clear as what? The word “if” is doing an Olympic level of lifting in that sentence, because her answer in 2021, although unnecessarily verbose, was crystal clear. She would indeed hand over her WhatsApp messages to a future inquiry. There was no lack of clarity. In fact there was complete unambiguity.
The criticism that has been made of Sturgeon at the time of the pandemic is not that this answer was unclear; it was that she said something she knew to be untrue. The WhatsApp messages she had been asked to hand over had already been deleted. She knew this, but she didn’t say it. She gave the bereaved relatives of Covid the hope – the cruel, false hope – that important discussions about policy between ministers and their advisers would be disclosed in full. And as Sturgeon gave that public undertaking, she knew she would not, could not, deliver it.
Sturgeon also denied that during the “horrendous days, weeks” of Covid she was “thinking of a political opportunity”, saying it “just wasn’t true”. Yet, Harris points out, a Scottish Cabinet minute released by the inquiry last week records a decision by SNP ministers that “consideration should be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum, with the arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis and developments on EU Exit”.
An email in July 2020, from Deputy First Minister John Swinney’s office to a list that included Sturgeon, also expressed “serious concerns” that not adding Spain to a travel exemptions list would be seen as “entirely political” in Madrid. “It won’t matter how much ministers might justify it on health grounds, the Spanish Government would conclude it is entirely political; they won’t forget; there is a real possibility they will never approve EU membership for an independent Scotland as a result.”
Worth reading in full.