NICOLA Sturgeon has toughened the code of conduct for Scottish ministers in the wake of Mark McDonald resigning over alleged sexual misconduct.

A new edition of the Scottish Ministerial Code, which the First Minister polices, includes a specific prohibition on “harassing, bullying or other inappropriate behaviour” by ministers for the first time.

It also instructs ministers to treat civil servants with “consideration and respect”.

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The changes - the first since August 2016 - follow the resignation of Mr McDonald as the SNP childcare minister in November and his subsequent suspension by the party.

Now the independent MSP for Aberdeen Donside, Mr McDonald quit after a woman complained about his conduct, understood to include a sexual text message.

He later admitted causing “considerable distress and upset”.

His behaviour is the subject of an SNP inquiry assisted by an external law firm.

Amid growing recognition of a harassment problem in politics, and in line with changes to the UK ministerial code, the revised Scottish code includes a new opening paragraph on harassment.

It states: “Ministers should be professional in all their dealings and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect.

“Working relationships, including with civil servants, Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues and Parliamentary staff should be proper and appropriate.

“Harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour, wherever it takes place, is not consistent with the Ministerial Code and will not be tolerated.”

In addition, the section on ministers and civil servants has been beefed up.

It now includes the instruction: “Ministers should be professional in their working relationships with the Civil Service and treat all those with whom they come into contact with consideration and respect.”

The updated code also put greater emphasis on transparency around lobbying and contacts with businesses and foreign governments.

It now says all official business should be arranged through private officers, rather than constituency offices or informally, and “a Private Secretary of official should be present for all discussions relating to Government business”.

In addition, all chance conversations about government business must be reported.

“If ministers meet external organisations or individuals and find themselves discussing official business without an official present - for example at a party conference, social occasion or on holiday - any significant content (such as substantive issues relating to Government decisions or contracts) should be passed back to their Private Offices as soon as possible after the event, who should arrange for the basic facts of such meetings to be recorded.”

A change to the section on cabinet collective responsibility also warns ministers against encroaching on each other’s turf.

“Ministers should take special care in discussing issues which are the responsibility of other Ministers, consulting Ministerial colleagues as appropriate,” it said.

LibDem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Updating procedures to tackle bullying and harassment are certainly overdue.

"This would also be an opportune time to update the code to clarify the relationship between ministers, political advisors and the impartial civil service, particularly in relation to freedom of information.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "None of the changes being made are prompted by any specific issue relating to a current or former Minister.

"The changes relating to the Scottish Code about Ministerial conduct reflect precisely the January 2018 changes to the UK Ministerial Code to address Ministers’ working relationships with civil servants, Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues and Parliamentary staff, and to make clear that “harassing, bullying or other inappropriate or discriminating behaviour, wherever it takes place, is not consistent with the Ministerial Code and will not be tolerated.

“The Scottish Code already requires Ministers to inform private offices about such meetings, but the changes ensure consistency with the UK code. In addition to the changes stemming from the UK revisions, a new section reflects the provisions of the Scottish Lobbying Act which will come in to force next month.”