First Minister and 'Queen of Scotland': row deepens

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Indy Politics

The veteran broadcaster Kirsty Wark's future as the face of the coming general election coverage for the BBC in Scotland was in doubt yesterday as concerns about her impartiality continued to fuel calls for her dismissal.

For the past 18 years Ms Wark, who is regarded as one of the most powerful media personalities in the country and is nicknamed north of the border "Queen of Scotland'', has spearheaded the BBC's election coverage in Scotland. However, the continuing row over her friendship with the First Minister, Jack McConnell, threatened to put her position as anchor in doubt yesterday as both Conservative and nationalist politicians called for her to be replaced.

Ms Wark's 20-year friendship with the First Minister and his family has been put under the spotlight after they all spent the New Year together at the broadcaster's Majorcan villa.

Suggestions from political opponents that accepting a free holiday from a journalist was an error of judgement by Mr McConnell were further fuelled by revelations that it had not been the first time the families had holidayed together.

As demands grew for Mr McConnell to make a personal statement to the Scottish Parliament next week about the extent of his relationship with Ms Wark, a senior Tory yesterday called for her to be sacked from the job as presenter of Newsnight on BBC2.

Writing in the Edinburgh Evening News last night, the Scottish Conservative frontbencher, Brian Monteith, said: "In 2007, the public has the chance to hold Jack McConnell to account - it doesn't have the same option with Kirsty Wark, which is why the BBC must act on its behalf," he said.

He added: "If Kirsty Wark will not resign from Newsnight she should be sacked - or moved to programmes where her friendship to the McConnells does not compromise either party."

His calls came just hours after television viewers in Scotland were treated to the bizarre position of watching Ms Wark present the main Newsnight programme from London on Thursday evening and then seeing her holiday feature as the main topic on the breakaway Newsnight Scotland.

A spokesman for the BBC refused to comment on the row yesterday and said that no decision had yet been made about who would be presenting the general election coverage in Scotland. "When the election is called we will start putting our programme team together," said a spokesman.

"Any potential conflict of interest is a matter for the individual programme editors and it will be up to whoever takes on that role to decide on what action should be taken."

However, there is growing speculation that senior BBC officials are not happy about the turn of events and executives are reported to believe that Ms Wark had been "incredibly naive" to believe her holidays with the McConnells would not attract attention.