JASON Leitch said Nicola Sturgeon had been “absolutely ridiculous” in a Cabinet meeting during the pandemic, WhatsApps shown to the Covid Inquiry have revealed.

In messages presented during John Swinney’s evidence session on Tuesday, Leitch was revealed to have said he “almost intervened” as Sturgeon scolded then health secretary Humza Yousaf.

The WhatsApps in question were exchanged between Yousaf and Leitch, the national clinical director, on December 13 and 14, 2021.

Yousaf had been pushing for stronger Covid restrictions as the Omicron variant emerged, and claimed Sturgeon had been “ranting” at him.

He wrote to Leitch (grammar and spelling errors have not been altered): “I took a hell of a bullet at Cabinet (!) But might be able to strenghten the measures, even if its just slightly.

"We think we can find £100m within the portfolio not sure if thats enough but ive pushed to ask if it is enough to move limits on gatherings in households and hospitality into regs for at least the next 4 weeks.”

The National:

Yousaf added: “Dont know if itll happen this last minute and FM not remotely happy its at this last stage but let's see if it strengthens a package of measures that are far too weak as things stand.”

Leitch said he had been listening to the Cabinet meeting, adding: “I almost intervened to deflect for you. She was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.”

Yousaf said he did not realise Leitch had been “on the call”, going on: “Ack that's just the way it is. Her ranting at me isn't the problem, i can take it its whether the quantum at this stage helps us strengthen they package. Though feel free to defend me at a later stage [laughing emoji].”

Questioned about the exchange, former deputy first minister Swinney denied that Cabinet meetings were “driven by Nicola Sturgeon’s strong mindedness” and disagreed that challenging her was “seen as taking a bullet”.

Swinney told Jamie Dawson KC: “I think that particular morning, the first minister was a little bit surprised that the health portfolio had been able to find £100m to transfer to business support.

“In all my 10 years of handling the public finances of Scotland, the health secretary never offered me £100m in exchange for anything.”

Swinney was also questioned on his assertion that, in his 16 years of being in the government, he had never take part in a vote in Cabinet.

Dawson asked: “Could you please explain to us why Cabinet never took a vote given that Cabinet was the decision-making body?”

Swinney said: “Because Cabinet aired its views, we had the evidence in front of us and the first minister would get to a summary position and that would be informed by the evidence and what had been expressed at Cabinet.

“In my 16 years in Cabinet there wasn’t a single vote on any issue because that’s not how Cabinet does its business, it does its business by trying to come to a point of agreement.”

Elsewhere, the inquiry heard that Swinney had "manually” deleted messages between himself, Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf in a practice which could date back to 2007.

The former deputy first minister said he rarely spoke to Sturgeon via text messages or other informal means, saying they were generally only used to set up a phone call.

These messages, he told the inquiry, were deleted in accordance with Scottish Government guidance.