Responding to the publication of the report of the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints, FDA General Secretary Dave Penman welcomed the recommendation that the process for handling complaints against ministers should be fully independent. He reiterated the FDA’s call for this to apply to both current and former ministers.
Penman said: “The committee’s report will make uncomfortable reading not only for the civil service, but for ministers, Parliament itself and the political parties. The testimony of Ms A and Ms B in particular should make sober reading for politicians of all parties who have used their experience for political gain whilst purporting to have their interests at heart.”
Arguing that the report showed that many of the issues that arose could have been avoided if the investigation and decision making process had been independent of government, Penman noted that the report recognised that the Scottish Government had been right to review its procedures for handling complaints. He added that, “given the inherent difficulties for people coming forward with complaints of sexual harassment, this should include historical complaints.”
The General Secretary further called for the Scottish Government to commence the urgent job of rebuilding confidence among civil servants that complaints about ministerial conduct would be dealt with “effectively and efficiently”:
“As a first step, the government must ensure that all outstanding complaints are dealt with as a matter of priority. Warm words on their commitment to address inappropriate ministerial behaviour will ring hollow whilst civil servants have to wait more than a year for an investigation in to complaints to even begin.
“At the same time, the government needs to set out a clear road map and timeframe for how it will review its procedures in light of this report and that of Laura Dunlop QC.”
Reflecting on the experience of the women whose experiences were central to the matter, Penman concluded:
“As the women at the heart of this commented: ‘It has highlighted the inadequacies of the complaints process, but it has also shown the kind of circus that can bubble up around it. One of the most distressing aspects has been to see media commentary on how this has set back the #MeToo movement, which is obviously the complete opposite of what any of us hoped to achieve by starting to put those things on the table.’
“Our hope now is that the political circus around these events will draw to a close.”