Scottish Government publishes harassment guidance involving former ministers hours after Alex Salmond allegations made public

© PAAlex Salmond.
Alex Salmond.

The Scottish Government published advice on the handling of harassment complaints against former ministers less than two hours after allegations against Alex Salmond were made public.

The former First Minister has launched a court action to contest the complaints process that was activated against him after it was reported that allegations about his conduct towards two staff members in 2013 – while he was in office – have been handed to police.

Mr Salmond issued a statement embargoed until 10pm on Thursday after he was approached for comment on the story by the Daily Record newspaper.

The Scottish Government guidance, which was agreed in December 2017 and uploaded onto the internal civil service intranet at that time, was published at 11.40pm on Thursday.

Both First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government Leslie Evans confirmed the complaints against Mr Salmond were made in January this year.

The guidance confirms current First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon would have been informed of the allegations when the investigation was deemed to be “complete” by civil servants.

When an allegation is made against a former minister, a senior civil servant who has had no prior involvement with any aspect of the complaint will be designated as an investigating officer, according to the guidance.

They will interview staff and witnesses before preparing a report for the Permanent Secretary, which will be shared with the staff member.

The permanent secretary will decided if there is cause for concern and give any former minister an opportunity to respond and request statements are taken from additional witnesses.

It will then be decided by the permanent secretary whether the complaint is well-founded and what further action, if any, is required.

The guidance says: “For complaints involving a former minister who is a member of the party of the current administration, the permanent secretary will inform the first minister both in this capacity and in their capacity as party leader, of the outcome when the investigation is complete.

“In their capacity as first minister, they will wish to take steps to review practice to ensure the highest standards of behaviour within their current administration.”

It adds: “The final report will be provided to the staff member and the former minister.

“If the former minister declines to co-operate with the process the matter will be investigated as far as possible without their involvement. They will be advised of the complaint against them and the outcome of any investigation undertaken. This will be recorded within the SG.

“The First Minister will be advised where a current or former minister who is a member of the party of the current administration has declined to cooperate and will be responsible for any further action.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.

Mr Salmond denies the claims and has said he has been prevented from properly challenging them by Scottish Government procedure.

The Scottish Government said it was vital any allegations of harassment were investigated thoroughly.

Mr Salmond said: “For many months now, and on the advice of senior counsel, I have attempted to persuade the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government that she is behaving unlawfully in the application of a complaints procedure, introduced by her more than three years after I left office.

“This is a procedure so unjust that even now I have not been allowed to see and therefore to properly challenge the case against me. I have not been allowed to see the evidence.”

He added: “The permanent secretary chose to deny me contact with any current civil servant, many of whom wished to give evidence on my behalf, and access to documentation to allow me to properly challenge the complaints, all of which I refute and some of which were patently ridiculous.

“The procedure as put into operation by the permanent secretary is grossly unfair and therefore inevitably will lead to prejudicial outcomes.

“It is therefore with great reluctance that I have today launched a Judicial Review in the Court of Session which will decide the issue of the lawfulness of the procedure which has been used against me.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We can confirm that Alex Salmond has initiated legal proceedings against the Scottish Government and as a result we are restricted in what we can say.

“However, the Scottish Government will defend its position vigorously. As a matter of principle and integrity, it is vital that any allegations of harassment are treated seriously and investigated thoroughly, regardless of the identity of the party involved.”

Police Scotland did not comment on the Daily Record report.