I've already commented at length in previous months about the cynical attempts to stitch up the televised leaders' debates, the dispute over which now appears to be inexorably moving towards legal action, largely it seems due to the broadcasters' unwillingness to contemplate even the slightest compromise or negotiation over the issue. So I won't go round the houses again, but I can only shake my head in disbelief at the way this Scotsman article falls hook, line and sinker for the convenient spin from the other parties that the SNP are trying to 'censor' the debate in some way. If Nick Clegg was being denied fair access to the debate, and the Liberal Democrats sought to remedy that through the courts, would they be seeking to 'censor' the debate? No, they'd be seeking fair access. Same for the SNP. If the London-based parties lack the imaginative capacity to even conceive of a fair four-cornered debate, that's their own deficiency, and shouldn't lead to silly jibes about censorship. "A debate of four? What's "four"? Our counting system only goes up to three - anything else must mean the same as zero."
But, says Tavish, there is a sort of reason for shamelessly discriminating against one - just one - of Scotland's four main parties. The other three party leaders are all "candidates for Prime Minister". And, pray tell Tavish, what precisely is a candidate for Prime Minister in a parliamentary system? When does the ballot for electing the Prime Minister take place? I had naively thought that we elected members of Parliament and then the Queen appointed the parliamentarian best able to command a majority in the House. That parliamentarian could be the leader of a majority party, or of a minority party. He or she could be the leader of a party that stood in a majority of seats, or a minority. He or she could theoretically be the leader of a very small party at the head of a complex coalition, as happens in many other countries. Indeed, he or she need not even be the leader of a party at all (the most recent example being Winston Churchill when he was first appointed). That's the constitutional position. So on that basis Nick Clegg is no more or less a "candidate for Prime Minister" than, say, Angus Robertson.
But perhaps Tavish is not relying on constitutional theory (for his sake, let's hope not) and instead is more interested in a debate between the individuals who have a "realistic chance" of becoming PM. Just one rather large snag, though - that would also rule out Nick Clegg. Some might say it would rule out Gordon Brown as well.
At the end of the Scotsman article are a couple of peculiar observations from politics academic Thomas Lundberg. He suggests that the threat of legal action is a "bit silly" because there is a "reasonable compromise" already on offer - by which he means the additional debates for the Scottish leaders. Perhaps he is unaware that those debates have been taking place (from memory) at every election since at least 1992, and would undoubtedly have taken place again this time anyway? Offering that up as some kind of "compromise" is rather akin to offering someone a compensation payment - but then deducting it from his own wages. The only genuine compromise it seems to me is to allow the SNP and Plaid Cymru a right to reply to the main debates they've been excluded from in a special programme to which the other Scottish and Welsh leaders are not invited. The only credible way to correct the outrageous imbalance of one programme is with another programme that is unbalanced in the other direction.
Additionally, Thomas Lundberg suggests that the proposal for additional Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish debates is fully in line with what happens in Canada. I'd be very intrigued to know if that's actually true, because I can certainly recall hearing about nationwide leaders' debates in Canada in which Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québécois participated on an absolutely equal basis with all the other national political leaders (Conservative, Liberal, NDP). Simple question - if Gilles Duceppe is a national party leader in Canada, in precisely what sense is Alex Salmond (or Angus Robertson) not in the UK?