NICOLA Sturgeon has dismissed claims there’s a “culture of secrecy and cover-up” in her government over allegations of bullying.
The First Minister cited data protection considerations when pushed to release further information about a probe into a former Cabinet member.
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. Ewing was said to have rejected the claims made against him back in 2020.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Sturgeon said in response to Sarwar’s question that she could not disclose such information due to “very considerable legal data protection issues”.
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”.
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.
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.
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”.
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”.
SNP MP Joanna Cherry, who was sacked from the party’s Westminster frontbench after falling out with the party leadership, broke ranks to speak out over the issue.
She tweeted: “Bullying is a significant issue in politics. Of course all allegations should be investigated and, if the fact there is an allegation is in the public domain, the outcome of the investigation should be made public. That is only fair to all concerned.”