ALASDAIR CLARK: Covid bereaved right to ask why Jason Leitch hasn’t resigned

It was an opportunity for them to show the importance of a strong, independent civil service, and the crucial role they played in responding to a once in a lifetime crisis.

Instead, the Covid-19 Inquiry has revealed how some of Scotland’s most senior officials treated Scots with nothing but contempt.

As we put our faith in them to respond to a crisis which was devastating the lives of so many, they were openly laughing and joking about ensuring their discussions would never see the light of day.

Shocking evidence led at the inquiry revealed how former director general for external affairs Ken Thomson, who has now left public service, openly mocked the idea of transparency in government.

Civil servants must remember who they work for

“My middle names are plausible deniability”, he told members of one group chat as he reminded them their conversations could be recovered by pesky journalists and members of the public using freedom of information legislation.

Mr Plausible Deniability repeatedly took the time to issue edicts instructing staff to erase their conversations.

Perhaps he would have done well to remember his generous salary – in excess of £130,000 prior to his retirement – was paid by the same public he was seeking to keep in the dark.

Professor Jason Leitch.

Appearing at the inquiry on Tuesday, Jason Leitch, who boasted to colleagues that wiping his message history was a “pre-bed ritual”, insisted he was simply following the government’s guidance.

But he should find no comfort in this defence, and lawyer Aamer Anwar, who represents the Scottish Covid bereaved, is correct to say there has been an outbreak of selective amnesia.

From May 2020 it was clear there would be a public inquiry into how the government responded to the pandemic, and he would have known all too well of his responsibility, his duty, not to delete evidence.

Jason Leitch cannot dodge accountability

Indeed, Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly made public commitments that WhatsApps and other key materials would be preserved.

With that understanding, the decision by Prof Leitch, Mr Thomson and others to continue their industrial deletion of key evidence leaves us no choice but to conclude they held the public in contempt.

While ministers should answer for the behaviour of civil servants on their watch, figures like Prof Leitch cannot be allowed to dodge accountability.

In return for their expertise, level heads and institutional knowledge, we gave them generous pay packets.

But the Covid Inquiry has shown that too many too readily forgot they were in positions of immense power to serve the people of Scotland.

And that means, even if it is uncomfortable, they open themselves up to a level of scrutiny and accountability those who work in the private sector do not face.

If they cannot accept this, and hope to dodge it by relying on a defence that they were “just following the guidance”, then they should find themselves jobs outside of public service.

Indeed, it may prove impossible for the public to ever have confidence in many of the most senior civil servants again.

In these circumstances, they will have little option but to offer their resignation.


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