Tuesday, 22 December 2009

UK regions should not be deprived of leaders' debate by nationalist small mindedness

The BBC, Sky and UTV will each screen a live TV debate between the three candidates to become British prime minister.

Inevitably Alex Salmond is indulging in a strop about the arrangement, despite the fact that his party does not organise nationally and his own lack of participation in the next general election.

The serious point is that, whatever nationalists might maintain, the most important facet of Westminster elections is their determination of the next government of this country. Minority parties should, of course, be granted airtime, and the networks have vowed that there will be devolved equivalents to the UK wide leaders' programmes.

The contest to become prime minister is, however, of national interest and it deserves its own broadcasts, without an irrelevant contribution by Alex Salmond, or another member of his party. Regional debates are the forum where regional figures’ input is appropriate.

In Northern Ireland, no doubt, we will be treated to a head to head between Peter Robinson et al which will make the heart swell with pride. In Scotland Salmond will probably take an inordinately pivotal role in the SNP’s campaign, despite his non-candidature. The party relies on his personality cult. If there’s a debate for Scottish leaders, he’ll be there.

None of which should deprive viewers in the ‘nations and regions’ of the opportunity to engage fully with the UK wide campaign to determine a new prime minister. That is the most vital debate which will take place between now and May and it has nothing to do with Alex Salmond.


JPJ2 said...

Why on earth cannot there be a debate FOR SCOTLAND ONLY between Brown, Cameron, Clegg and Salmond?

Most of the discussion between Brown etc will relate to issues over which Westminster no longer holds sway.

You are being petty minded in thinking the Scots want to listen to 4 and a half hours of this without SNP input.

rutherford said...

yeah, why would Scots want to tune into such immaterial issues as Afghanistan, taxes, the economy, climate change, energy, ....

Anonymous said...


Not a bad idea. What about a Northern Ireland version?

Brown vs. Cameron vs. Robinson vs. Durkan (or his successor) vs. Adams?

DougtheDug said...

The opinions in the post on this blog are like many I see in other posts and in comments to posts. Namely that as the SNP have no hope of forming the next UK government and as they don't organise across the UK then they have no right to be on any debate between the party leaders broadcast in Scotland.

Unfortunately for those who hold these opinions the legislation and guidelines on political impartiality in broadcasting aren't written that way. OFCOM defines the four major parties in Scotland as Labour, the Conservatives, the Lib-Dems and the SNP , PC is defined as a major party in Wales and the NI parties are major parties in NI. The BBC in its guidelines states that its editorial decisions must be, "aware of the different political structures in the four nations of the United Kingdom and that they are reflected in the election coverage of each nation. Programmes shown across the UK should also take this into account."

In other words Scotland, like Wales and NI, is treated as separate unit for election broadcasting and within Scotland the SNP has the same status as Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib-Dems for any election broadcast.

A multi-party election broadcast, which is what a party leader debate will be, broadcast in Scotland has to involve the party leaders of the OFCOM defined four major parties or it will fall foul of the guidelines.

England can get a three-party debate, Wales will also have to have a four party debate with PC involved and NI will have its parties in its own debate.

The problem for the broadcasters is that they are trying to apply a single rule across the UK when the guidelines and legislation don't. Yes, the SNP will not form the next government in Westminster and Alex Salmond is not standing as an MP but neither of these facts has any bearing on the rules about political impartiality in broadcasting in Scotland and they will have no effect on any Judge interpreting these rules.
The important point to remember is that the SNP is not trying to gain UK coverage to which it has no right under the current guidelines but to ensure that the guidelines on broadcasting are followed in Scotland.

I know many genuinely believe that the SNP do not have any right to appear with the other three party leaders in a debate broadcast in Scotland but those who do believe that and say it should try reading the guidelines first.

Alec said...

>> Why on earth cannot there be a debate FOR SCOTLAND ONLY between Brown, Cameron, Clegg and Salmond?

Have you asked Brown, Cameron and Clegg?

>> You are being petty minded in thinking the Scots want to listen to 4 and a half hours of this without SNP input.

I don't have any problems with the Fish-heid turning up for a spell, at the end when the main team has played. But that's not why Salmond's threatening to take away the ball, and you know it.

Jim Bobbins said...

The BBC is a UK State Broadcaster paid for by licence fee payers in every region of the United Kingdom.

To be truly equal then, the leadership debate should be between those party leaders who are standing candidates in every region of the United Kingdom.

That would be between David Cameron, leader of the Conservative Party.

And Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party.


DougtheDug said...

Jim Bobbins:
And Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party.

If the debate was restricted only to parties which fielded candidates in every corner of the UK it would be a one sided debate where David Cameron and Sir Reg Empey talked to themselves. That is if you now count the Conservatives and the UUP as one unitary party.

Caroline Lucas' party only fields candidates in England and Wales. The Scottish and Northern Irish Greens are separate parties.