The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru have reacted badly to the news that they will be barred from the General Election leaders' debates.
News that the three main parties have agreed to the format of the proposed leaders’ debates during the election received a warm reception from those involved. Gordon Brown said he looked forward to the opportunity “to debate the big issues”, Nick Clegg – who many see has being the main beneficiary of the debates – said it was as “great news”, and David Cameron, writing on the Conservatives’ “Blue Blog”, said:
“I really relish the challenge the debates will bring.”
Instead, the BBC has announced its plans to hold additional debates specifically for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It goes on to make clear that the SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP, the BNP and the Green Party will be given time, in the news bulletin following the national debates, to react to what is said. Sky news had previously said that it would hold separate debates for Scotland and Wales.
“By definition these debates as currently proposed are incapable of reflecting what’s happening in Scotland – this is exemplified by the planned domestic issues programme, which will almost entirely be based on what’s happening in England.
“Along with the broadcasters, the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour are trying to mislead the people of Scotland, shackle the governing party at Holyrood and ignore the reality of devolution.
“The SNP does not want to prevent these debates from happening, we want to participate in them, but if these debates go ahead as currently proposed, the views of Scotland’s voters and the interests of the people of Scotland will be ignored and excluded.”
In criticising the proposed format, the SNP have cited a YouGov poll they commissioned in January which found 59 per cent of those Scots questioned believed the SNP should not be excluded from the national leaders’ debate.
“I can’t think of a single election anywhere in the world at any time where somebody who wasn’t even a candidate in that election actually wanted to take part in a live televised debate – Alex Salmond is not standing for this election in Westminster.
“In the UK parliament, which has got 650 seats, the SNP hold seven. In the UK parliament, the SNP are a fringe, minority party.”
“We are very concerned that the wool is being pulled over people’s eyes and that a democratic deficit is being created with the plans for these debates.
“They are being set up in a way that will mislead people into thinking that only the London parties are taking part in this election … in many of Wales’ constituencies one or two out of these London parties barely feature in the running – yet they will feature prominently in this London stitch-up.”
A spokesman for the BBC said:
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“We believe the national debates, and these additional specific and guaranteed opportunities to air views about the UK-wide debate, will ensure due impartiality is achieved in line with the BBC’s election guidelines.“