'Newsnight' interrogator faces hard questions about her role in the £400m fiasco at Scottish Parliament

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Indy Politics

Kirsty Wark, the Newsnight presenter, is more used to asking tricky questions than answering them. But yesterday the uncrowned queen of the Scottish intelligentsia was called before a public inquiry to explain her role in the fiasco over the cost of the Holyrood Parliament.

Ms Wark, 48, was a member of the panel which chose the winning design of the new building. The original cost of £40m has increased tenfold and is running three years late.

What she wasn't asked, during her appearance at the Scottish Land Court in Edinburgh was why the BBC, which commissioned her production company Wark Clements to make a documentary about the project, has refused to release vital taped interviews to the inquiry. More than 400 hours of recorded conversations with the project's key people, including the late First Minister Donald Dewar - a personal friend and neighbour of Ms Wark's - and Enric Miralles, the avant-garde Catalan architect hired for the project, are understood to be under lock and key in the Glasgow offices of her company.

With both men now dead their recorded views provide the best chance to hear what they really thought about the project.

BBC Scotland is refusing to hand over the untransmitted interviews, claiming it would betray the confidence of sources, even though every contributor to the documentary series, The Gathering Place, was interviewed on camera.

Many of those interviewed have said publicly they have no problem with their interviews being made available to Lord Fraser, who is leading the £1.2m inquiry. Critics of the BBC, such as the former SNP leader Alex Salmond and Conservative leader David McLetchie, believe the problem may be a possible conflict of interest overMs Wark's involvement in the design competition for the parliament building and the making of the programme.

Like the parliament building itself, the film, which was initially granted a budget of £373,000 from the BBC, the Scottish Arts Council, the National Lottery and Scottish Screen, has overrun and costs are now £820,000, of which about £60,000 is profit to Wark Clements.

Ms Wark's husband, Alan Clements, has claimed the increased costs have been "purely driven by the delays in the construction of the parliament building" and hit out at the critics who "hint at cosy cartels, even corruption, in our relationship with BBC Scotland". "Much is made of the fact that we knew Donald Dewar well. We did, but we also know figures across Scotland's political and media villages, as is inevitable in a small country," said Mr Clements in a very public defence of his wife.

While south of the border Ms Wark is principally known as the hard-nosed presenter of Newsnight and, in some circles at least, as the successful co-founder of the production company, Wark Clements, that she launched in 1990 with her husband, her profile north of the border is somewhat bigger. In Scotland Ms Wark has built a reputation as one of the country's leading highbrow celebrities who knows everyone who is anyone. Whether it is helping Scotland's Girl Guides raise money, chairing medical conferences, acting as a motivational or after-dinner speaker, or sitting on the committee of museum boards or charities, Ms Wark has become indispensable for adding gravitas to an event.

Her soft-left politics and no-nonsense business style have earned her an estimated £6m while her fierce intellect has helped her to a position of authority within a small country where power and influence is congregated among a relatively small elite.

A close friend to Mr Dewar for more than 20 years, she was asked to sit on the panel he appointed to select the design for a brand-new "signature building" to house Scotland's Parliament. Although passionate and knowledgeable about Scottish architecture Ms Wark, by her own admission, did not have any technical expertise which would have made her an obvious candidate for the role.

She told Lord Fraser of Carmyllie yesterday that she thought she had been selected "partly because of my life-long interest in Scottish architecture and my commitment to Scotland.

"I knew I didn't have the technical expertise but I thought it was a great honour and I thought it was a way of doing something that was a public service," she said.

As a member of the panel she told the inquiry that the overriding preoccupation was to choose "a great building for Scotland", not the cost of it. The panel was appointed in early 1998 by Mr Dewar, who also chaired it, and, after whittling down 70 initial applications, it eventually awarded the contracts to the Catalan architect Enric Miralles and his Scottish partners RMJM in July of that year.

Ms Wark said she had no involvement in fees tendered by the architect and that the panel's decision was not based on cost. If cost had been the main criterion, she said, "We would have ended up with a shed".

"At that stage there was nobody really concerned about [the cost]. It wasn't the overriding concern of the panel," said Ms Wark."First of all we were looking for someone with a great vision for the Parliament." Although Ms Wark was not asked yesterday about the BBC row, it is understood she had been in contact with the inquiry team before her appearance to "clarify" the line of questioning she could expect.

Lord Fraser said there were "other matters" he hoped would be resolved with Ms Wark regarding Holyrood and he warned she might be called back to give further evidence.