FIRST Minister Humza Yousaf has accused Douglas Ross of "breathtaking hypocrisy" amid a row over WhatsApp messages presented to the UK Covid Inquiry.

Scottish Tory leader Ross accused the SNP of adopting a "culture of secrecy" as he spoke at First Minister's Questions of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon having deleted all her WhatsApp messages from during the pandemic alongside ex-deputy first minister John Swinney.

The inquiry heard last week Sturgeon appeared to “have retained no messages whatsoever”, but she later issued a statement emphasising that she did not steer the pandemic response via “informal messaging”.

She added that the inquiry does have "messages between me and those I most regularly communicated with through informal means" as she obtained copies of her messages that are now not on her device.

Ross claimed that what both the former first and deputy first minister had done was "scandalous" and accused everyone from politicians to civil servants of seeking to "destroy evidence".

But the First Minister defended his government as one which was transparent, having handed over 28,000 messages to the inquiry including all of his own.

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He said: "For all the accusations that he is throwing at the former first minister, at the former deputy first minister...I'm assuming those same accusations ring true for his colleague the prime minister who hasn't handed over a single WhatsApp message."

He accused Ross of "political opportunism" and "breathtaking hypocrisy", adding that when the Scottish Government asked the Scotland Office for Ross's messages, it "refused" to hand them over.

However, Yousaf did admit the probe into WhatsApp messages had not been the Scottish Government's "finest hour" and apologised "unreservedly" to families who have been bereaved through Covid "in relation to our handling of the issue of informal communications".

He added he had commissioned officials to lead an externally-led review into the use of mobile messaging apps and the use of non-corporate technology in the Scottish Government on the back of the debacle.

Ross said he had handed his WhatsApp messages to the inquiry, adding he did not delete any and did not recognise what Yousaf had been referring to with the Scotland Office.

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FMQs took place at Holyrood as Sturgeon’s former chief of staff, Liz Lloyd, gave evidence to the inquiry in Edinburgh and hours before Yousaf was due before the panel himself.

Ross also referred to a message from Lloyd about starting “a good old fashioned rammy” with the UK Government.

He said such messages confirm “the SNP made some crucial Covid decisions for purely political reasons”.

But Yousaf responded: “I reject the charge in its entirety.

“I know our motivation, every step of the way, was to ensure we kept the people of this country safe.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar used FMQs to accuse Sturgeon and Swinney of deleting WhatsApp messages on an “industrial scale”.

He said: “This isn’t just about the inquiry, this is about how this Government operates.

“This is a party that over the last 17 years in Government has created a culture of secrecy and cover-up.

“A culture that goes from the First Minister down, because the SNP believe that it’s one standard for them and another standard for everyone else.

“They have abused the trust that the people of Scotland have put on them.

“First Minister, how can you ever expect the people of Scotland to trust you or your party ever again?”

Yousaf said he had handed over all of his own WhatsApps and highlighted his own appearance before the inquiry.

He said: “To suggest that somehow there was a cover-up – I frankly do not believe the public agree with Anas Sarwar or Douglas Ross.”