NICOLA Sturgeon has been accused of "creating a bullies' charter" after using data protection laws to suggest the outcome of allegations against a former SNP minister may be kept secret.

In 2020, then rural economy and tourism secretary Fergus Ewing, was the subject of a bullying complaint by civil servants. At the time, a spokesperson for Mr Ewing said the SNP MSP “completely rejects the claims”.

Reports suggest the investigation which was escalated into a formal process has now been completed – but the First Minister has refused to comment on the outcome, pointing to GDPR rules, fuelling the prospect that outcomes of any bullying complaints may never be made public.

But SNP MP Joanna Cherry has called for outcomes of any bullying claims in the public domain to be made public.

Writing on Twitter, Ms Cherry said: “Bullying is a significant issue in politics. “Of course all allegations should be investigated and, if the fact there is an allegation is in the public domain, the outcome of the investigation should be made public.

“That is only fair to all concerned.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar pressed the First Minister over the investigation into Mr Ewing, initially asking her in general, how many probes into current or former ministers are underway, how many have concluded and what the outcomes have been.

In response at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon insisted she was “not in a position to get into these issues” because she claimed there are “very considerable legal data protection issues that I am bound by”.

She added: “Governments have a duty of transparency, but governments also have a duty to abide by the law on privacy and on data protection.

“A complaint, by its nature, includes personal data of both the complainer and the person complained about. This personal information can only be made available outwith the narrow confines of the complaint if there is a lawful basis within GDPR to do so.

“Yes, there is a duty of transparency but there is also a duty to abide by the law.”

But Mr Sarwar stressed that “no-one is asking the First Minister to reveal confidential details” but said there is a need for the Government “to reveal the outcome" of the prove into Mr Ewing.

The Labour leader pointed to words made by SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford in relation to allegations against UK Home Secretary Priti Patel, where he stressed the importance to “lead by example”.

Mr Sarwar said: “After the allegations against Alex Salmond and then Derek Mackay and the bullying findings against UK Government ministers, we need to restore trust in politics and that must start with complaints being handled transparently.

“Will she today confirm the outcome, not the personal details, the outcome of the bullying investigation into Fergus Ewing?

“Can she confirm is there have been any other investigations into current and former Scottish ministers and will she commit to make public the conclusion of any complaints upheld against ministers in this government?”

Ms Sturgeon insisted that she and her Government “take any complaints about any ministers very seriously”.

She added: “That is evidenced by both the development of the publication of the updated procedure for handling complaints made by civil servants either about current or about former ministers.

“This is not a question about any complaints, if they are raised, not being investigated. But that has to be done within the law.

“If I answer questions on this, I will be at risk of breaching that law.”

Mr Sarwar stressed that “the public deserve to know the outcome of an investigation relating to ministers and the SNP Government”, adding it was “an issue of public transparency”.

He said: “It is indicative of a wider culture and the culture of secrecy and cover ups at the heart of this Government. Instead, the First Minister has hidden behind GDPR and refused to come clean over the outcome of the investigation into Fergus Ewing.

“The public deserve to know the outcome of this investigation as a matter of transparency.

“This lack of transparency is creating a bullies’ charter and allowing senior officials off the hook.

“The fact that Nicola Sturgeon can't escape from is that her government and the SNP operate in a culture of secrecy and cover up.”

Mr Sarwar added: “Cover ups when it comes to the awarding of government contracts, cover ups when it comes to the deaths of children in hospital, and a culture that has contempt for journalists, and anyone who dare ask a difficult question of this First Minister.

“After 15 years of being in government, why does Nicola Sturgeon think it's one standard for her and another standard for everyone else.”

Asked by journalists about the complaints, Deputy First Minister john Swinney, who is the lead minister on the Government's new harrassment policy, repeated Ms Sturgeon’s argument that the Government is “obliged to follow the law”.

He said he has “set out in significant detail” to Holyrood committees, “an open and transparent approach to the handling of complaints within the Scottish Government”.

Mr Swinney added: “We’ve set out an open policy and it’s been scrutinised by parliament, but fundamentally government must comply with the rules of GDPR in all circumstances.”

Mr Ewing could not be located for comment.