The timeline published by the Scottish Government last Wednesday showed specific requests for its Whatsapp messages had been made by the inquiry in February.
However, both Mr Yousaf and Ms Robison had previously stated the messages were asked for in September.
“The initial requests received from the UK Inquiry focused on decision-making. As we have stated previously, it is not the culture within Scottish Government to routinely use systems such as WhatsApp for decision-making.
“Decisions are routinely made in minuted meetings or through formal submissions to ministers. All relevant records of both of these have been provided to both inquiries already,” Ms Robison told Holyrood in a statement on October 31.
“The UK Inquiry asked in June for summaries of all WhatsApp and similar groups related to coordination, logistics and day-to-day communication – greatly expanding the scope of what the Scottish Government needed to collate and process accordingly. This request was followed in September by a request for the actual messages exchanged within these groups.”
Mr Yousaf told MSPs on November 2 that the request for the messages were made by the UK Inquiry in September.
“The messages were asked for in September, just a matter of weeks ago,” he stated then.
At First Minister’s Questions last week, Mr Yousaf rejected claims he and his deputy misled Holyrood over the matter.
However, he admitted that his government had interpreted requests for messages from the inquiry “too narrowly” and noted the Scottish Government had now handed over 14,000 messages.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross pictured at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, November 9. Photo PA.
Asked to admit he “didn’t tell the truth” by Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross on Thursday, the First Minister said: “I absolutely refute that. Clearly I was talking about specific WhatsApp groups. [What] I do accept fully from the inquiry is that we have interpreted their requests too narrowly and subsequently having done so we have then supplied 14,000 messages to the inquiry.”
Following FMQs he refused to refer himself to his independent adviser on the ministerial code saying there was “no need to do so” after leaving the Holyrood chamber.
On Wednesday this week, the Scottish Tories will use their debating time to accuse Mr Yousaf and Ms Robison of deliberately misleading the parliament.
If they are found to have intentionally done so, they will be “expected to offer their resignation”, according to the ministerial code.
Irish barrister James Hamilton is the independent advisor on the ministerial code. Photo PA.
“Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison – the two most senior members of the SNP government – have deliberately misled the Scottish Parliament,” said Mr Ross.
“That is why my party will use our debating time in Holyrood to urge the First Minister and Deputy First Minister to refer themselves to the independent adviser on the ministerial code.
“Only then can the whole truth be fully uncovered as to whether or not they have fallen short of the standards that the public expect them adhere to.”
Mr Ross added: “I would urge Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison to refer themselves to the independent advisor on the ministerial code so that we can understand why they misled Parliament.
“MSPs from all parties need to get behind our motion to stand up for the integrity of the Scottish Parliament.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “The SNP must lead by example and come clean on the exact details of this scandal.
“Humza Yousaf has contradicted himself so many times that it is now hard to keep track. The grieving families at the heart of this inquiry deserve better than this.
“The First Minister must ensure that all material is handed over, whether it’s WhatsApp messages from former and current ministers, SNP secret email accounts and all legal advice, so that the inquiry can be allowed to do its job properly. The families deserve nothing less.”
At the end of the Scottish Parliament’s proceedings on Wednesday evening, Ms Robison raised a point of order to alert MSPs to the publication of the timeline at the UK’s inquiry’s request.
It showed the inquiry had first asked for WhatsApp messages in February.
The timetable shows that the inquiry made a draft request of the Scottish Government on November 4, 2022, asking whether WhatsApp groups were used by the government. In February 2023, it asked for “communications relating to key decisions” including emails, texts and WhatsApp messages.
The Scottish Government said it submitted draft responses through the spring of 2023. Its timetable publication said: “In those responses it made clear that all key decisions and decision making were recorded on the Scottish Government corporate record. No WhatsApp messages were submitted as part of those responses.”
The UK inquiry made a further request in June 2023 seeking details of the Scottish Government’s policy on informal messaging. This asked for the names of any such groups, their members and their roles.
In September 2023, the inquiry asked for the messages within those WhatsApp groups to be handed over. Requests were sent to ministers, civil servants and former ministers in July and August this year.
The Scottish Government said there was a “large amount of sensitive and personal information contained within the WhatsApp messages” and to comply with data protection laws it requested a Section 21 notice to hand them over. When this was supplied, the government was given a deadline of November 6 by which to share the messages.
The motion is unlikely to pass without support from the Scottish Greens, who are in a power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Government which has granted their co-leaders ministerial office.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The First Minister has made clear that neither he, nor the Deputy First Minister, has misled Parliament.
“The Scottish Government has worked and will continue to work tirelessly to provide the UK Covid Inquiry with the materials it has requested. In total more than 19,000 documents have already been provided to the UK Inquiry.”
The independent advisor – who since 2013 has been James Hamilton – is tasked with assessing if the ministerial code has been breached.
Mr Hamilton previously cleared former first minister Nicola Sturgeon of a breach over when she knew about allegations made against her predecessor Alex Salmond.