JOHN Swinney has said he would be “horrified” to be investigated under a new process to tackle bullying and harassment by ministers.

The deputy First Minister said he would be “mortified” if he was ever the subject of a complaint that triggered it.

He said: “As a serving minister I would be horrified if I was to be involved in this policy.

“Horrified, mortified and various other words I would use. 

“There is a necessity at all times for ministers to operate in a respectful fashion.”

Mr Swinney made his comments while explaining the new process to MSPs on Holyrood’s finance and public administration committee this morning.

The system is intended to avoid a repeat of the Alex Salmond fiasco by taking many of the key decisions out of the hands of civil servants.

Three years after Mr Salmond won a legal action over the flawed application of the current system for complaints inside the Government, the new system is due to start by March.

Developed with trade unions, it will use external investigators and adjudicators to look at formal complaints of harassment, bullying and discrimination made against current and former ministers by government staff. 

There will be a panel of five independent adjudicators and five independent investigators.

Based on the independent findings and decisions, the Government will then be responsible for taking action. The Scottish Ministerial Code is to be updated to reflect the changes.

Mr Swinney said the objective was to rebuild trust among staff and for the Government to act as a good employer following best practice.

He said: “I would like to hope it is never used. I hope we have a culture that avoids the necessity to use such a procedure.”

He said the process would establish a relationship with the ministerial code to ensure accountability.

He said: “I know there’s an awful ot of debate just now about the relationship of the conduct of ministers and the ministrial code.

“But believe you me, as a serving minister, I consider on a constant basis the necessity of acting consistent with the requirements of the ministerial code, because I know that is the standard to which I will be judged.

“Hence why this policy has to establish a relationship to the ministerial code. 

“There has to be accountability around the conduct of ministers, and that has to be driven by the ministerial code.” 

Mr Swinney admitted the Government might refer complaints to the police if it thought there had been criminality, even if complainers did not want them to do so.

He said every such referral would be considered on a case by case bais, but the Government had to consider its own obligations in relation to the rule of law.

SNP MSP Michelle Thomson said that might have a “cooling effect”, by deterring potential complainers to come forward.

She said sharing complainers’ information with the police without their consent might be regarded as “further abuse”.

Mr Swinney admitted there were “dilemmas” for the Government, and agreed to reflect on Ms Thomson’s points.

During the Salmond affair, the Government’s top civil servant, permanent secretary Leslie Evans, passed material to the police despite the complainers not wanting it.

The changes follow a report last year by Laura Dunlop QC into the Salmond affair which said it was “essential” future complaints be investigated and adjudicated externally.

She said the in-house system which went spectacularly wrong in the Salmond case was “self-evidently problematic”, with an “obvious” risk of perceived bias.

The report was seen as a rebuke Ms Evans, who oversaw the botched Salmond probe.

The former First Minister was awarded £512,000 costs in 2019 after winning a judicial review over how two complaints made against him in 2018 were handled by the government.

Mr Salmond was able to show the civil service investigation had been flawed, unlawful, and “tainted by apparent bias” because of a conflict of interest at its heart.