If Humza was trying to show us he had stuff to hide he did a fine job

If Humza was trying to convince us he had something to hide then he did a fine job, writes STEPHEN DAISLEY

First Minister’s Questions is usually a predictable affair, with the opposition ­dredging up the week’s big talking points to put the FM on the spot. 

Douglas Ross tried a ­different tack this time, seizing on news fresh out of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

Jamie Dawson, KC, counsel to the probe, had just told Lady Hallett SNP ministers had failed to hand over a single Whats­App message from the pandemic era.

Anyone who’s been around the block with this lot knows they’re about as transparent as the Berlin Wall circa 1973.

Even so, withholding messages from an inquiry trying to get answers for grieving families is so low it’s halfway to Australia.

Humza Yousaf did not foresee the ambush. 

Humza Yousaf at First Minister’s Questions yesterday

Everything about his body language told us this. 

He was a vision of awkwardness: weight shifting, eyes darting, shoulders tensing.

He claimed both to have handed over messages and that he would hand them over, but they ‘have to go through appropriate processes’. 

Ross found it incredible the First Minister was so clueless. ‘Surely he is aware of what’s happening,’ he sputtered. Are you new here, Douglas?

The Tory leader pointedly asked if the Scottish Government had deleted any messages. The First Minister just as pointedly failed to address the question.

If the object of his performance was to convince people he had something to hide, he did a fine job.

Yousaf may have been caught unawares by this line of questioning but he quickly became deft on his feet. 

Asked if ministers had made pandemic decisions via WhatsApp, including in the missing messages, he allowed only that such things had not happened ‘routinely’.

No definition or parameters were volunteered. Pointing to evidence of Yousaf and three other ministers using WhatsApp, Ross suggested the First Minister might have ­inadvertently misled MSPs.

The benches behind Yousaf hissed like a pack of cats whose tails had all been trodden on simultaneously.

The First Minister blurted: ‘I did not inadvertently mislead the chamber!’ You might want to rephrase that, Humza. 

It was entirely the wrong answer for a different reason

. A First ­Minister claiming not to have lied, thus repeating the attack line of his opponent, is a story in its own right.

A modern-day equivalent of Nixon’s ‘I am not a crook’.

The BBC soon confirmed this by making Yousaf’s words a headline.

All this could have been avoided by simply handing over the ­messages, but that would imply he knew about any of this, and his turn before MSPs did not depict a man keenly up on the details.

It’s an unfortunate tic the First Minister has: when he talks about events, he sounds like he’s commentating on them rather than leading them.

It was the same when he was interrogated by Anas Sarwar over budget cuts at the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

He spat out statistics like an old dot matrix printer. Brrrrr… more firefighters than England… brrrrrr… better pay offer to the unions… brrrrr… fires down 14 per cent… brrrrr. 

It was that last figure that stood out. Instances of fire down?

Thank goodness fire is such a predictable phenomenon.

Sarwar cited all the places hardest hit: ‘Dundee, Greenock, Dunfermline, Methil, Perth, Glenrothes, Hamilton, Kirkcaldy, Edinburgh and Glasgow.’

It was a roster of where the Scottish Government’s axe had fallen on frontline fire services – and a list of all the places that won’t have an SNP MP much longer the way things are going.

Fireman Bam was un­deterred. He accused Sarwar of spin – the very thought! – before assuring the ­public that ten appliances that had to be withdrawn from duty represented only 1.5 per cent of the fleet. Some might call that spin.

When you hear the answers Yousaf has prepared in advance, you ­wonder how they can be even more hapless than the ones he’s forced to make up on the spot.

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