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Sturgeon denies her Government operates ‘culture of secrecy’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon denied her Government has covered up bullying allegations (Jane Barlow/PA)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon denied her Government has covered up bullying allegations (Jane Barlow/PA)

The Scottish Government has been accused of operating a “culture of secrecy and cover-up” over allegations of bullying.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar quizzed Nicola Sturgeon on the number of bullying investigations carried out into current or former SNP Cabinet members, and what the outcomes of those were.

It came after reports re-emerged over bullying complaints allegedly made by civil servants against SNP MSP Fergus Ewing when he was serving as the Government’s rural economy and tourism secretary.

Mr Ewing was said to have rejected the claims made against him back in 2020.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Ms Sturgeon said in response to Mr Sarwar’s question that she could not disclose such information due to “very considerable legal data protection issues”.

Anas Sarwar
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar asked the First Minister about investigations into bullying allegations (Jane Barlow/PA)

She said while governments “have a duty of transparency”, they also have a “duty to abide by the law on privacy and on data protection”, adding the information requested could only be disclosed “if there is a lawful basis”.

Mr Sarwar pointed out that the information he requested would not reveal confidential details, repeating he was asking about the outcomes of investigations.

“We need to restore trust in politics,” he told the First Minister, after quoting SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford in the aftermath of bullying allegations made against Home Secretary Priti Patel.

“We have to lead by example. We have to show leadership, and we have to make it very clear that those who work in this Parliament, those that work elsewhere in society, need the fullest protection from bullying,” he quoted.

Ms Sturgeon said she and the Scottish Government “take any complaints about any ministers very seriously”.

She said this had been shown through the development and publication of updated complaint handling procedures following the investigation into complaints made against former first minister Alex Salmond.

“These are serious issues, they have to be treated seriously, but they also have to be treated within the confines of the law that applies,” the First Minister said.

Mr Sarwar hit back: “The public deserve to know the outcome of an investigation relating to ministers in the SNP Government. That’s an issue of public transparency.”

He suggested the SNP is operating “in a culture of secrecy and cover-up”, going on to accuse the party of covering up issues such as ferry contracts, allegations against ministers and the deaths of children in hospitals.

He also accused the First Minister of having “contempt for journalists and anyone who dare ask a difficult question”.

Ms Sturgeon rejected the suggestions, pointing out she established a “full independent statutory public inquiry” into deaths at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

She added she had answered more questions from journalists than any other political leader in the UK, and had become the subject of investigations because she “wasn’t prepared to cover up allegations against a former minister”.

When pressed later by journalists, a spokesman for the First Minister refused to expand on the issue, but when asked if the Scottish Government is “secretive”, he responded: “No.”