by RAY FLEMING
WHEN I retired to Alaro from a career in government and the UN I hardly expected to find a “Villagate” affair just down the road. Yet the Kirsty Wark/Jack McConnell scandal has brought Alaro unaccustomed attention as protests are made that the BBC's star Newsnight presenter and Scotland's First Minister, and their families, should not have spent Christmas here in Wark's villa. The issue is whether their long established professional friendship could lead to a conflict of interest, perhaps causing Wark unconsciously to show political bias on air and perhaps leading McConnell to show some favour to Wark in her work. Both have said that the very idea is nonsense: the BBC has backed Wark but McConnell is facing rougher waters in Scotland. And, as always, once a story of this kind starts it quickly gathers speed.

Yesterday, for instance, the unlikely figure of Lord Fraser of Carmyllie became involved. He undertook the official inquiry into the gross overspending on the new Scottish Parliament building but was frustrated by his inability to gain access to tapes of interviews with Donald Dewar, the late First Minister, and the architect Enric Miralles who has also died. The interviews were taped by Kirsty Wark's production company working for the BBC. A parliamentary motion to ask the BBC to release the tapes was opposed by Mr McConnell and heavily defeated. It also emerged yesterday that Wark had spent two nights at Bute House, the First Minister's official residence, at taxpayers' expense.

The problem with all cases of this kind is that the appearance of conflict of interest can be almost as damaging as a proven case. Yet one must feel sympathy for people who in changed circumstances are faced with the need to keep old friends at a distance.

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