NICOLA Sturgeon has announced a shake-up of how complaints against former and serving ministers are handled in the wake of the Alex Salmond affair.

The First Minister said an “external, independent procedure” would in future deal with harassment complaints, rather than the Scottish Government’s own officials.

A “propriety and ethics team” would also be established to ensure the highest standards on integrity across the civil service in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon said firm plans would be published before the end of 2021.

Scottish Labour welcomed the move, but said the Scottish Government's top official should play no part in developing the new system, after bungling the current one.

The announcements were part of the Government’s combined response to three recent reports on the Salmond affair - the Holyrood inquiry into the episode, a independent report on whether Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code, and a report by Laura Dunlop QC.

The latter report, published in March, appears to have been a key driver of the reforms.

READ MORE: Alex Salmond affair review calls for independent complaints process

Ms Dunlop said it was “essential” that harassment complaints were taken away from civil servants to avoid a repeat of the Salmond fiasco.

She said the current system was “self-evidently problematic” and it was “particularly challenging” to demonstrate neutrality when officials were overseeing probes into their political masters, with an “obvious” risk of perceived bias.

Ms Dunlop was asked by SNP ministers to review and strengthen the procedure used against Mr Salmond in 2018, which he successfully challenged in court.

The former First Minister showed the Government probe into sexual harassment complaints against him by two female civil servants was unfair, unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, leading to a taxpayer bill for £512,000 for his costs.

A Holyrood inquiry later found a catalogue of blunders under the Government’s top official, the permanent secretary, Leslie Evans.

Publishing the Government’s plans today, Ms Nicola Sturgeon said: “At the heart of the three reports are the complaints from two women who spoke of unacceptable behaviour in the course of performing their duties as civil servants.

“These complaints could not be ignored. Everyone should be able to expect a respectful and safe working environment. This is both a legal right and core to the values of the organisation.

“Our goal is to embed a culture where bullying and harassment is not tolerated and where there is trust in how matters will be handled if things go wrong. 

“This work is informed by engagement with our recognised trade unions and by staff, including those with lived experiences of bullying and harassment.”

“We are determined to learn from and apply the insights from these reports to build a culture in Government where concerns are addressed early, and where all those involved with a complaint have confidence and can engage constructively and fairly in the process.”

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie, who sat on the Holyrood inquiry into the Salmond fiasco, said: "Throughout the work of the Committee it became apparent that the Scottish Government's processes for dealing with harassment complaints were simply not fit for purpose.  

"A great many people, particularly women, have already been failed by the government’s flawed procedures and for that they should be ashamed.  

"Today’s reports and the recommendations contained within them are welcome.

"It is right that the government learns from its mistakes and that an external procedure to deal with complaints against current and former ministers is put in place. 

"Given the several failings on the part of the Permanent Secretary, as revealed by the Committee's work, it is simply wrong for her to have a leading role in the creation of the new process. Indeed, the Committee concluded that the Permanent Secretary should consider her position. 

"Much more must be done to tackle the inequality and the workplace culture at the heart of the Scottish Government. Scottish Labour will continue to advocate for both a process and a workplace culture that prevents and tackles all forms of harassment.”  

Tory MSP Murdo Fraser, who also sat on the Holyrood inquiry, said: “The failures of the Salmond inquiry highlighted once and for all that the Scottish Government had failed to ensure measures were in place to guarantee harassment complaints would be robustly dealt with.

“Their procedures shockingly let down women who had bravely came forward to make serious allegations against senior figures. The failure by those in charge to fully support those women at that time should never be forgotten.

“Promising to learn from their past mistakes is a step in the right direction from the Scottish Government, but the devil will be in the detail as to what processes they will ultimately put into practice.

“We’ve shamefully still to see anyone take responsibility or lose their top roles despite overwhelming failures in dealing with previous harassment complaints.

“The lack of a culture of accountability has been staggering and that must change if people are to have any confidence in procedures going forward." 

Allan Sampson, Scotland officer for FDA civil service union, said it was a “victory for all those working in Scottish Government, particularly those who have spoken out and fought to make it a better place to work even at the expense of their own careers”.

He said: “The commitment to an independent process is a significant and historic step forward, as the Scottish Government is the first government to commit to implementing an independent process for complaints against ministers.

He also said it was “fundamentally important for Scottish Government to recognise the hurt, and loss of trust and confidence experienced by civil servants”.

He added: “This not only applies to those who have spoken out at a considerable personal cost, but also those who have not felt able to raise their complaint and instead have suffered in silence.

"The announcement is a significant step forward to repairing that trust but Scottish Government need to realise how let down staff have felt, and must make the implementation of the process their number one priority. It is a fundamental right that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect at work.”