The Report of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints has been published and can be downloaded here.
In early December 2019, I joined the Committee as a substitute when my colleague, Alison Johnstone MSP had to leave the Committee for health reasons. Later in December I resigned from the Scottish Green Party and have sat as an Independent MSP.
I have undertaken my Committee work with impartiality and have worked hard to discharge the duties placed upon the Committee by Parliament, namely to conduct an Inquiry with a remit:-
to consider and report on the actions of the First Minister, Scottish Government officials and special advisers in dealing with complaints about Alex Salmond, former First Minister, considered under the Scottish Government’s “Handling of harassment complaints involving current or former ministers” procedure and actions in relation to the Scottish Ministerial Code
The Inquiry was in four phases – development of the harassment complaints procedure, handling of complaints, the Judicial Review and actions of the First Minister in relation to the Ministerial Code.
This has been a difficult inquiry into a series of high profile and sensitive issues of sexual harassment in the workplace and involving Scotland’s two most recent First Ministers.
The Inquiry has been carried out in an increasingly fractious and toxic political environment where claim and counter-claim have become weaponised in an ugly debate on social media and more widely.
The Committee has, in the circumstances, in the face of serious impediments to its work and in a very tight final timescale managed to produce a report which will, I hope, lead to a far better response to the serious mater of sexual harassment in the workplace.
This whole sorry tale arises because the former First Minister, Mr Salmond behaved inappropriately towards female civil servants.
There was an organisational culture of inappropriate behaviour by Mr Salmond and complicity across a number of fronts in terms of people not challenging that behaviour.
The Scottish Government failed in its duty of care towards civil servants, in particular, some female civil servants during the period when Mr Salmond was First Minister. Safeguarding appears to have been wholly absent.
Very senior civil servants and Special Advisers knew about this and did nothing. Instead, they were complicit in covering up such behaviour.
The First Minister instructed a review of sexual harassment complaints in October 2017 and is to be commended for doing so. The new procedure included provision for retrospective complaints against former Ministers and it was right to do so.
Two complainers came forward with formal complaints and were right to do so. They trusted the procedure to deliver a just outcome for their complaints.
The procedure was developed in a short space of time with insufficient stress testing. The Permanent Secretary led the work and went on to have the key decision making role in the procedure as well as a number of contacts with the complainers.
The Scottish Government failed to identify the issue of prior contact by the Investigating Officer as a potential procedural failing never mind the subject of a potential legal challenge.
The Scottish Government breached their duty of care to the complainers by not ensuring the confidentiality of the final decision report which was leaked to the Daily Record newspaper in a shocking violation of the complainers rights to privacy. No-one has been held accountable.
In response to the Judicial Review, the Scottish Government failed in its duty of candour to the court in not identifying and disclosing key evidence from the Investigation Officer until so late in the process that the case become unstateable and had to be conceded.
At an early stage the Scottish Government was responsible for a serious, substantial and entirely avoidable situation that should never have arisen in a well run organisation.
In responding to this inquiry, the Scottish Government frustrated the inquiry by its failure to provide timeous documentary evidence and refusing to disclose legal advice and waive legal privilege until 6pm on the day before the appearance of there First Minister.
As the First Minister recused herself from Scottish Government dealings with the Committee, this failing is the responsibility of the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney.
In relation to the First Ministers actions in relation to the Ministerial Code, she has been cleared of any breaches by James Hamilton QC and the Committee never sought to make any determinations as to such breaches.
The Committee, however finds it hard to believe that the First Minister knew of no concerns about inappropriate behaviour by Mr Salmond prior to November 2017. Awareness of his behaviour was an open secret in Government and was known about at the highest levels of the civil service. The First Minister did not hear of any concerns because the truth was being intentionally concealed from her.
All senior members of Government including the then deputy First Minister have a duty to ensure the welfare of staff and to ensure no-one is allowed to behave with impunity. That means asking discrete but awkward questions at the right time.
Fundamental errors were made by a number of parties throughout the whole process from October 2017.
The First Minister misled the Committee by stating in her written evidence that she would not seek to intervene in the process. On the contrary she did offer to intervene. In the event, of course, she did not in fact intervene and that was the right decision.
The First Minister bears some responsibility for failing two women and many others who did not come forward. Mr Salmond and Mr Salmond alone, however, is responsible for his inappropriate behaviour.
As Head of Government, the First Minister responded appropriately in the wake of #metoo albeit long after senior members of ScotGov knew of Mr Salmond’s harassment of civil servants.
The First Minister should be perfectly capable of accepting the conclusions of the Committee’s report and committing to work with others to develop a robust and fair system for dealing with complaints that can be trusted by staff in the workplace.
Some MSPs and their parties should reflect on the extent to which they weaponised for political advantage an inquiry into how two women were failed over serious complaints.
Some MSPs and other in party machines should reflect on their role in breaching the MSP Code of Conduct, leaking confidential material and betraying the trust of the two women whose testimony to the Committee in private was meant to stay private.
It is time to work together to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual violence against women and men.