'Not in public interest' to disclose misconduct probe outcomes against SNP ministers, including Fergus Ewing

It is not in the public interest for the public to be told the outcome of any misconduct complaint made against previous and current SNP or Green ministers, the Scottish Government has said.

It comes as ministers also refused again to state the outcome of the bullying complaint against former rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, claiming doing so would stop future complaints being made.

The SNP is embroiled in controversy around how it handles complaints against its representatives with its Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, facing calls to resign or be sacked due to his reported backing of MP Patrick Grady.

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Mr Grady was found by an independent investigation to have behaved inappropriately towards a member of staff at a party function in 2016 and suspended from Parliament for two days.

The victim of the behaviour is now considering legal action after audio was leaked to the Daily Mail newspaper of a meeting of the SNP group at Westminster, where Mr Blackford said he was “very much looking forward to welcoming Patrick back into the group next week”, and encouraging fellow MPs to offer “as much support as possible”.

Critics say the Scottish Government’s “secrecy and cover-up” on this matter allows them to “dodge scrutiny”.

Former SNP rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, who was subject to a bullying complaint.Former SNP rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, who was subject to a bullying complaint.
Former SNP rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, who was subject to a bullying complaint.

Mr Ewing, now a prominent internal critic of the SNP over its approach to the North Sea oil and gas industry, saw three civil servants make allegations of bullying behaviour while he was a minister.

Following a lengthy internal process, it is believed this probe is now over, but Nicola Sturgeon has cited data protection law as the reason for not releasing its conclusions.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, ministers have gone further, stating that it is in the public interest for the outcome of the complaints against Mr Ewing and any allegation of misconduct, whether it is upheld or not, to be kept secret from the public.

Officials argue that releasing the result of Mr Ewing’s case would not only breach data protection rules, but would also stop new complainers coming forward and would constitute an actionable breach of confidence.

Asked to release the outcome of all misconduct allegations against ministers, including those not upheld, ministers refused.

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No details such as the nature of the complaints or the identity of the complainer were requested.

They said: “We consider that there is a greater public interest in ensuring that future complainers are not deterred from making complaints of improper conduct, and in respecting the confidentiality which they reasonably expect as part of that process.

"The function of ascertaining whether a person is responsible for conduct which is improper would be frustrated in its entirety if complainers are unwilling to make such complaints because they reasonably apprehend that information about the complaints, including the ultimate outcome, will be made public.”

In their response, officials confirmed two investigations into ministerial misconduct had been concluded, including the botched probe into the sexual harassment claims against Mr Salmond.

Edward Mountain, the Scottish Conservative MSP, said the response was “another SNP cover-up”.

He said: “After a two year investigation this SNP Government believes that keeping the outcome of the inquiry secret will give confidence to civil servants, whose bosses are potentially bullying them, to come forward. This couldn’t be further from reality.

“We may never know the outcome of this investigation, which allows Fergus Ewing to dodge scrutiny and destroys this Government’s claim to be addressing bullying.

“Frankly, this is another SNP cover-up and how they think that they can get away with it is beyond me.”

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Scottish Labour’s Neil Bibby added: “This is just the latest example of the lengths to which this Government will go to avoid coming clean with the public over Fergus Ewing’s conduct.

“From the Grady scandal to the ongoing secrecy surrounding Fergus Ewing, it is clear that the SNP is addicted to secrecy and cover-up.”

A Government spokesperson pointed to the new handling process for complaints against ministers or former ministers published earlier this year.

The spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government does not comment on individual HR or employee matters.”

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