McConnell 'broke the rules' over villa holiday
• McConnell denies holiday with Wark was a gift and accuses opposition of attacking their integrity
• SNP deputy leader attacks denial as against legitimate public interest
• Former Standards Committee convener says First Minister bringing Holyrood into disrepute
"Every overseas trip must be declared. The only exemptions are if the whole trip was paid for by the MSP, his or her spouse, the Executive or the parliament" - Mr Rumbles, convener of the Standards Committee 1999-2003
Story in full JACK McConnell broke the rules governing the conduct of parliamentarians when he failed to declare his holidays with Kirsty Wark, according to the MSP who drew up the regulations.
Mike Rumbles, a Liberal Democrat MSP and former convener of the Standards Committee, said the First Minister was damaging the reputation of Holyrood by refusing to declare his holiday with the Newsnight presenter in the official register of members’ interests.
He said the rules had to apply to all MSPs and warned that members did the parliament a "disservice" if they failed to abide by them.
The row over the First Minister’s two holidays with Wark has dominated Scottish politics for ten days and yesterday Mr McConnell was forced to spend most of First Minister’s Question Time fending off repeated questions about his friendship with Wark.
The Tories and the SNP believe he ignored the parliament’s rules by refusing to declare his two vacations with the BBC broadcaster at her Majorcan villa and that he has failed to live up to the high standards that he himself promised to keep.
Mr McConnell hit back angrily in the chamber yesterday, refusing to admit he had done anything wrong.
But he appeared to make the position even more confusing, moving away from his insistence last weekend that he would have declared the New Year holiday as official hospitality had it been worth more than 250. Yesterday he declared that the holiday was purely a private affair and did not count as hospitality at all.
The First Minister’s attempts to end the furore were also undermined by the intervention of Mr Rumbles, who yesterday became the first Executive MSP to break ranks publicly and criticise Mr McConnell for failing to declare his stay.
Mr Rumbles was the convener of the Standards Committee between 1999 and 2003 and, as he said yesterday, he "wrote the rules" on MSPs’ conduct.
He said the rules were clear: "Every overseas trip must be declared. The only exemptions are if the whole trip was paid for by the MSP, his or her spouse, the Executive or the parliament."
Mr Rumbles said MSPs should always "err on the side of caution" and he added: "The rules have to apply to everybody, all 129 MSPs, and it does a disservice if that is misunderstood. Part of the job of MSPs is to abide by the rules."
Mr Rumbles’ decision to criticise the First Minister in such a definite way, warning of a "disservice" to the parliament in failing to adhere to the rules, ups the stakes considerably.
Labour MSPs will be furious that Mr Rumbles has spoken up and his intervention will only add to the strains between the two coalition parties.
None will go public, but some Labour MSPs admit privately that they wish Mr McConnell would declare his holiday with Wark in the official register of members’ interests to draw the issue to a close.
The First Minister will not do this, however. It has become a point of principle for him. He believes his holidays are a private arrangement and he has no need to declare it.
If he were to declare it now, it would open him up to further questions about his approach to the row that raged last year over tapes made by Wark’s company which were not given to the Holyrood inquiry.
Mr McConnell has made it clear he intends to ride out this storm. He set out his defiantly battling approach yesterday, turning the attacks back on his opponents by accusing them of questioning both his integrity and the integrity of Wark and her husband, Alan Clements.
Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, argued he had enjoyed the hospitality of an individual who was the director of a company that earned thousands of pounds in Executive contracts and had been "embroiled in controversy" over the withholding of evidence from the Holyrood inquiry.
Mr McConnell said: "The innuendo and insinuation that a private family holiday is in some way wrong when two families have known each other for over 16 years ... when everybody who knows them - and many who don’t - know they are good friends, I think is wrong.
"There is absolutely no question that I received a gift or, in my view, hospitality from Alan Clements, Kirsty Wark and their family."
David McLetchie, the Tory leader, concentrated on the Holyrood tapes
and asked whether the integrity of the inquiry into the building had been compromised.
Mr McConnell said: "There is an issue about the failure of the BBC to hand over the tapes. I made it absolutely clear they should hand over the tapes."
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