Salmond: I don’t recall my government had policy of message deletion

Scotland’s former first minister Alex Salmond said he did not remember a policy of deleting informal messages during his time in government.

Appearing before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, both Mr Salmond’s successor, Nicola Sturgeon, and her deputy, John Swinney, said they had been advised by private office staff to delete informal messages after salient points had been recorded on the Government’s information retention system.

But Mr Salmond, who said he had checked with former ministers Kenny MacAskill and Alex Neil, claimed such advice was not the policy of his government.

Appearing before the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, Mr Salmond said: “I am not aware of any such policy – I would have thought I would have had to sign off any such policy.

“It is possible that there was such advice through a private office, but certainly no general government policy, nothing I signed off and I was totally unaware of it.”

A witness statement submitted to the inquiry by the Scottish Government’s Director General of Corporate Leslie Fraser said the Public Records (Scotland) Act 2011 placed a duty on Government to create a records management plan, the first of which being implemented in 2013 – the year before Mr Salmond stood down – although it is unclear how this plan dealt with informal messaging.

The issue of WhatsApp messages came to the fore late last year, when the inquiry said the majority of such correspondence between senior Government officials during the pandemic had been deleted, in line with guidance.

Some messages, including those of First Minister Humza Yousaf, were recovered through various means, but the Government’s handling of the issue has been heavily criticised.

Ms Sturgeon deleted all messages, but stressed she did not conduct Government business by WhatsApp.

Asked by Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, who sits on the committee, if Ms Sturgeon or Mr Swinney had lied to the inquiry while under oath, the former first minister declined to answer, saying that would be an issue for the inquiry or the information commissioner, who has launched a probe into the issue.

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