Wednesday 1 November 2023

Where did I leave my WhatsApp messages?


I write a lot about Scottish politics, but I don’t really know anything about the last three First Ministers. Compare this with the last few Prime Ministers and leaders of the opposition. There is almost nothing I don’t know about them.

It’s not just about the Covid Inquiry and the WhatsApp messages. We’ve heard in excruciating detail what Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings said at the time. Much of it is embarrassing. We’ve also had investigations into breaches of lockdown rules at Number 10 Downing Street.

We know huge amounts about Boris Johnson’s private life because it has been reported in newspapers. Nothing is hidden. If there is an attempt to hide someone in the civil service leaks or a vengeful former colleague goes to the press. But there is nothing like this in Scotland.

Ever since the SNP came to power in 2007, we have only ever seen what it wants us to see. The Scottish civil service wrote the SNP’s independence White Paper. There is no Scottish equivalent of Sue Gray who investigated Boris Johnson’s misbehaviour and then went to Labour. Can you imagine a Scottish  civil servant investigating Nicola Sturgeon and then joining the Conservatives?

During 2013 and 2014 when Alex Salmond was presented as a leader in waiting of an independent Scotland there were no leaks about his alleged misbehaviour in Bute House. No one saw anything, no one heard anything, and no one told anything. We had to wait three years until 2017 when there was a secret investigation that eventually led to a trial where Salmond was acquitted.

During the subsequent inquiry we still didn’t really find out anything. What if anything did Nicola Sturgeon know about the allegations in 2013 and 2014? We don’t know. What involvement did she have in the investigation and finding those who accused Salmond? We still don’t really know. Whenever she was pressed, she could say I don’t remember. Documents were withheld or redacted, other evidence didn’t exist because meetings were not minuted or conversations were held in metaphorical parks to avoid anyone overhearing.

The inquiry had a pro independence majority and came to the required conclusion. Sturgeon didn’t have to resign. Imagine if the inquiry into parties at Downing Street had had a pro Boris Johnson majority. He would still be Prime Minister now.

This year has involved the most extraordinary revelations about Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, but we still don’t really know anything about what has happened.

Suddenly in February Nicola Sturgeon resigned “to spend more time with her family”. No one believed that was the reason. But we don’t really know what the real reason was. It might have been to do with the controversy over gender recognition and male prisoners in women’s jails. But I don’t think it was. Sturgeon could have survived that. It could have been due to the Supreme Court blocking the Scottish Parliament organising a referendum. But she had been told No before and carried on.

The obvious conclusion is that Sturgeon resigned because she had been told about the investigation into the SNP’s finances. But she denies this. It would also have been disgraceful if she had been told. No one warns the rest of us.

Since then, we have all been constrained by the law in Scotland that makes it difficult and risky to comment on people who have been arrested.

But imagine if Rishi Sunak had told an important committee in the Conservative Party not to ask about the party’s finances. Imagine if Rishi Sunak’s mother-in-law had a campervan parked outside her driveway. Well, my guess is that there would already have been endless leaks about the whole story. Sunak’s rivals would have told everything they knew. Civil Servants would have found emails and WhatsApp messages which either exonerated him or not. There would have been a media frenzy that would have eclipsed anything in Scotland and the story would have been resolved and it would have ended one way or another.

In Scotland we wait and wonder if the story has gone the way of Yorick. Alas poor Scotland.

So is it a surprise that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t know or won’t tell or can’t remember whether she deleted her WhatsApp messages? No. It follows a pattern of behaviour.

There is a reason why Boris Johnson and others are being embarrassed by the things they said on WhatsApp. They knew they would be in serious trouble if they deleted these messages. There are rules about how you run a government. There are consequences if you break rules like having an impromptu party. But not in Scotland.

Imagine if one Friday in 2020 Nicola Sturgeon had a few drinks and a cake with civil servants and party colleagues in Bute House. It would have broken the rules, but everyone was working hard and tired. I have no idea if this happened, but I would be surprised if it didn’t. Similar gatherings probably happened in Berlin and Paris and Rome.

But there would be no leaks in Scotland. Just like in 2014 with Salmond. The civil servants would know that their jobs depended on staying silent and probably supported the SNP anyway. Journalists would look the other way, or else never get another interview.

Sturgeon may or may not have deleted her messages. Alternatively, her policies and thoughts may have been given verbally in meetings without minutes. But nothing embarrassing will come out. There will be no recordings of Sturgeon swearing about colleagues or Boris Johnson.

Why? Because she knew she could do what she wanted and get away with it.

The issue in Scotland is not whether you believe in independence or not. It’s whether you want to live somewhere with an open accountable government and politicians who abide by the rules because they must or else be punished by the courts or the ballot box.

It’s not enough to complain about Sturgeon as some sensible independence supporters are doing. The reason we have a secretive SNP Government that thinks it can get away with anything is because the goal of independence was seen as excusing everything. It meant the SNP could get away with anything.

Nothing will really change, and no one will be held to account until the SNP is kicked out. I think Scottish voters have finally realised this. It’s not about WhatsApp messages, its about corruption.

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