THE Scottish Conservatives have failed in their attempts to compel the First Minister and his deputy to refer themselves for investigation relating to their handing over of WhatsApp messages to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry.

The party tabled a motion in its own debating time on Wednesday that, if passed, would have seen the Scottish Parliament agree Humza Yousaf and Shona Robison should refer themselves over a potential breach of the ministerial code.

The motion was voted down by 63 votes to 53 with one abstention.

Yousaf and Robison have been under fire in recent weeks after the Scottish Government was forced to publish a timeline of its dealings with the inquiry, which showed it had been asked for messages in February as opposed to September, as previously stated.

The senior ministers accepted the Government had interpreted the initial request “too narrowly”.

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If either was found to have knowingly misled Parliament, the ministerial code says they would be expected to resign.

Speaking in the debate on Wednesday, Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross urged MSPs across the chamber to back the motion, insisting it was not about partisan politics.

“What is said here does and must matter,” he said.

“That’s why the question before us today should be above the usual partisan considerations.

“This is not a battle of ideas, it’s not a debate about how we best govern our country, it’s a simple consideration of the facts and the evidence, of what was said and whether there was as deliberate attempt to mislead.”

The National: Douglas Ross

Ross (above) was warned by Deputy Presiding Officer Liam McArthur after accusing the country’s most senior ministers of having “deliberately misled this Parliament”, with Mr McArthur saying he should be “steering clear” of such accusations in the Holyrood chamber.

But Ross said the statements “were not a slip of tongue, they were a product of a concerted effort to confuse and muddle the timeline to make it seem as though the SNP Government were not dragging their heels in getting evidence to the inquiry”.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said the debate was about the “SNP Government being held accountable for their decisions and conduct during the most tragic event in living history”.

He told MSPs people “deserve the truth” about how “life and death decisions” were made during the pandemic.

“The least Scots could have expected was their Government would make getting the truth as easy as possible,” he said.

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“But that has clearly not been the case.”

He claimed there had been “attempts to withhold vital evidence from the inquiry”, with ministers “changing the excuse every time the stories fell apart”.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “This is a governing party afraid of the light. Afraid of the truths they conceal.

“And afraid of the judgment that would surely be rendered by the people of Scotland should those truths ever come to light.”

But in her speech, Robison said she “rejects” not only the motion but its premise that either she or Yousaf knowingly misled Holyrood.

“I want to start by repeating the acknowledgement of the First Minister last week – that in hindsight we recognise that the Scottish Government interpreted the earlier requests for messages from the UK inquiry in a way that was too narrow,” she said.

“Like the First Minister last week, I want to offer my unreserved apology to families who have been bereaved by Covid for any distress that our actions, as a result of that interpretation, has caused them.”

Robison went on to pledge the Scottish Government would “do all we can” to help both the UK and Scottish Covid inquiries carry out their work “at pace”.

She added: “That is in all our interests and we owe nothing less, not only to those who lost their lives or lost their loved ones in the course of the pandemic, but also to all those affected, including the many public sector workers that pulled together during this difficult time and whose work made it possible for our society to return to the normality enjoyed by us all.”