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Nicola Sturgeon must say ‘as much as you can’ over Fergus Ewing bullying probe

Nicola Sturgeon has been urged to say “as much as you can” over bullying allegations made against her former Cabinet colleague Fergus Ewing.

Patrick Harvie, the minister for zero carbon buildings and active travel, said governments had a responsibility to be transparent while also protecting their employees.

The Scottish Greens co-leader told the Record he was confident the Scottish Government would “do its best to strike a balance between respecting its legal obligations and giving transparency where it can.”

Ewing, an SNP MSP, was reportedly the subject of a bullying complaint by civil servants when he served as the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism.

The allegations – which Ewing denies – were made by three officials and escalated into a formal process in 2020.

The probe was completed last year – but the Scottish Government has sparked fury by refusing to comment on the outcome.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

When the matter was raised at Holyrood last week by Anas Sarwar, Sturgeon said: “I am not in a position to get into these issues because there are very considerable legal data protection issues that I am bound by.

“Governments have a duty of transparency, but governments also have a duty to abide by the law on privacy and on data protection.”

Ewing left the Cabinet in May last year following the Holyrood election.

Harvie joined the Scottish Government later that year under a power-sharing deal between the SNP and Greens.

Asked if ministers should now confirm if the complaint was upheld, he said: “I think the First Minister genuinely reflected that there are legal responsibilities that an employer has to take seriously.

“So as long as the legal responsibilities can be met, then there’s an argument for saying as much as you can about how issues and complaints of bullying are dealt with.

“I would have confidence, following what the First Minister said, that the government will do its best to strike a balance between respecting its legal obligations and giving transparency where it can.”

Asked if the public had a right to know about complaints made against ministers, he added: “The difficulty is there is this twin set of responsibilities.

“As an employer, you do have responsibilities for respecting people’s privacy.

“One of the worst things that can happen is if complaints like this become politicised and turned into political footballs, in the way that some of the Alex Salmond allegations did, and the complainers themselves are in the spotlight.

“That’s going to make it harder for people to complain about their managers, or politicians about powerful people in the workplace.

“Complainers need to know they have confidentiality and their interests will be protected.

“At the same, there is a requirement for transparency about politicians.

“Trying to achieve both is a difficult thing and the government is right to try and take both of those responsibilities seriously.”

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