Transparency ruling shows Sturgeon 'lied to Holyrood' around Ewing probe outcome, claim Labour

A transparency probe has heaped fresh pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to publish the outcome of the bullying complaint against Fergus Ewing.

Scottish Labour said the result of the probe meant the First Minister had “lied” to parliament around the complaint.

The comments follow a decision by the Scottish Information Commissioner, that ministers “wrongly” withheld information on how many Scottish Government staff were sacked due to misconduct.

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This included staff sacked for bullying, harassment, drugs, or alcohol, with ministers initially relying on GDPR rules to keep the information secret.

However, a year after the request was made, ministers released the figures and lost an accompanying transparency probe into their response.

In the decision notice, Margaret Keyse, head of enforcement at the Commissioner’s office, said the Commissioner was “not satisfied” a “realistic causal chain existed” to allow individuals to be identified from the data.

She added: “The Commissioner recognises that colleagues of those whose employment has been terminated could take a reasonable guess as to the reason why a person left their employment, and may already know via other means, he is not satisfied that disclosure of the actual figures requested would add to, or confirm, any suspicion a colleague may have.”

The ruling meant ministers were forced to admit two staff members were dismissed for bullying related incidents and one for alcohol related incidents, with none sacked for drug or harassment incidents.

The Scottish Government is under pressure to reveal the outcome of a bullying complaint against former minister, Fergus Ewing.The Scottish Government is under pressure to reveal the outcome of a bullying complaint against former minister, Fergus Ewing.
The Scottish Government is under pressure to reveal the outcome of a bullying complaint against former minister, Fergus Ewing.

Ministers have previously refused to state the outcome of the bullying complaint against former rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing, claiming doing so would stop future complaints being made.

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 and Mr Ewing was said to have rejected the claims.

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Nicola Sturgeon has previously claimed the information could not be made public because of “very considerable legal data protection issues”.

She later reversed the government’s stance that future complaints made against ministers must be kept secret, telling MSPs in June that rules would be changed to allow the outcome of future probes to become public.

That followed officials claiming it was not 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.

Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, Jackie Baillie, said the new transparency ruling demonstrated the First Minister had “lied” about why Mr Ewing’s complaint outcome could not be made public.

She said: “This clearly shows that the First Minister has lied to parliament over why her government has failed to disclose the details of bullying allegations against Fergus Ewing.

“This is an incredibly serious development and shows just how deep the culture of secrecy and cover-up is in this SNP government.

“The First Minister must apologise to the chamber immediately and come clean over the bullying allegations against Fergus Ewing.”

The Scottish Government rejected Scottish Labour’s claims, however.A spokesperson said: “The Commissioner’s decision notice does no such thing.

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“It relates to a request for numbers of Scottish Government staff disciplined or dismissed for a particular set of reasons and has no connection whatsoever to the outcome of any complaint made about the behaviour of current or former Ministers.

“The First Minister has pledged to make changes to the Ministerial Code and the Procedure for handling civil servant complaints about current or ex-Ministers to increase transparency in relation to future cases, while ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of complainants and witnesses.

"The Deputy First Minister will update MSPs on this matter at the start of next month.”

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