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SHE seemed the ideal partner - attractive, intelligent, and, as daughter of the late Labour leader John Smith, politically aware.

Duncan Hamilton was a rising star of the SNP. And, despite their different political allegiances, the moment he met Jane Smith there was a spark that led to a passionate on-off romance.

Not only was her political pedigree impressive, but the highly-driven Duncan clearly found her a beautiful woman.

But it seemed the path of love across the political divide was destined to be rocky.

In the latest twist in the saga, the pair have recently rekindled their affections after a break of two years.

However, relations are already looking strained. Friends say it's not down to any point of political principle - but to Duncan's political ambition.

One close friend of the couple said: "When we heard they were getting back together we thought it was a disaster.

"It certainly hadn't worked the first time."

Duncan, who at 24 is already tipped to be the next SNP leader, first came close to the Smiths when he met Jane's sister Catherine while they were both at Glasgow University in 1994.

Duncan left with a first-class degree in history and went on to study law at Edinburgh before winning the prestigious Kennedy scholarship to study government at Harvard in America.

The sharply-dressed son of a minister is a member of what has become known as the Nat Pack - a band of young Turks who have assumed positions of power around SNP leader Alex Salmond.

The party have chosen him to stand as their candidate for Argyll and Bute in the elections for the Holyrood Parliament.

Although he already knew the Smiths, it was not until Duncan was working as a political researcher for Salmond in London in 1996 that he had a chance to get to know Jane, now 27.

She had graduated from a design course at the Scottish College of Textiles in Galashiels, but chose to work for the Labour Party in London, organising conferences through the firm Neil Stewart Associates.

It was there that, through mutual friends and political connections, Duncan and Jane met and friendship blossomed into romance.

As a Smith, Jane had intelligence and kudos. She and her equally-glamorous sisters, Sarah and Catherine were dubbed "the Smithettes".

A friend said: "She had a lot going for her and they had a very passionate affair.

"They had politics in common, but that wasn't what gelled them together. They really fancied each other."

The romance continued for nine months. Duncan had little money, but they managed to eat in the best restaurants. And, for a while, he shared the Smiths' plush Barbican flat in London which had been bought by the former Labour leader.

It was convenient for them both, particularly for Duncan as it was just a 15-minute taxi ride from Westminster.

But friends say Jane began to tire of Duncan.

It was perhaps the traits that now raise comparisons with Salmond that grated. Duncan has been known to work until 4am at the SNP headquarters.

A friend said: "He bulged with confidence in his own abilities and hogged conversations.

"But he was also far more driven politically than she was and I think she started to think they were running out of common ground."

Even when Jane dumped Duncan, he kept in touch with the Smith family.

He regularly telephoned Lady Smith, John's widow, when he moved to Edinburgh to work at party HQ as assistant to SNP executive Mike Russell.

A friend said: "He kept up with her as much as he ever kept up with Jane or Cath."

Last November Duncan set his heart on winning Jane back. A couple of calls later, he got his wish.

This time there was more than an age gap and political differences to tackle.

She still lives in London and he lives in Milngavie, near Glasgow.

She travels to Scotland regularly to see her family, but even then she is not guaranteed to see Duncan.

A friend added: "The first time she was very in control of the situation, but this time round he is calling the shots."

So far the couple have refused to discuss the romance.

And although neither have denied the relationship, Duncan insists: "It is a personal situation."

But keeping it a secret has proved impossible in the incestuous world of Scottish politics.

They were both seen together only a fortnight ago at the great Salmond- Dewar debate in Edinburgh.

One political source said: "They were trying their best to exercise discretion, but it was clear they were an item.

"They talked a lot during the evening and they left the venue together."

Friends predict Duncan will ultimately allow his passion for politics to supersede his relationship.

One friend said: "He is a true politician and very ambitious.

"She is just a smart girl, but her hide is nowhere near as tough as his.

"If their relationship does end, it will hurt Jane badly."
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Author:Brown, Annie
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Feb 19, 1999
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