Jeff has picked up on a story on the Techwatch website suggesting that Alex Salmond may have a degree of involvement in one of the three proposed televised leaders' debates - the one produced by Sky. What's making me slightly cautious about this is that it's clear from the wording that the details of the story have been lifted directly from this Telegraph article from last week. It would be more encouraging if there was at least one other independent source, but if there is some truth to the story it would seem that sense may be starting - if only starting - to prevail.
Nevertheless, what is reportedly being proposed by Sky - that Salmond could come in at the end and ask one question on each debate topic and then give his own view - is a relatively modest compromise. Given that, it was quite astonishing to see the apoplexy which greeted the story when it broke last week on blogs such as Political Betting. One of the usual suspects (yes, her again) sniffily observed that she couldn't care a tuppence one way or the other about Scottish nationalism, but what she did object to is the SNP's "sense of entitlement" in thinking they have a right to be part of the 'national' debates. This appears to be a variation on the theme that if 'the children' really must be seen, they certainly shouldn't be heard by civilised folk south of the Tweed - whoever said the old imperial mindset was dead?
Let's ponder this for a moment - who exactly is displaying the 'sense of entitlement' here? Is it the SNP, who despite being faced with the outrageous prospect of receiving literally no coverage in three high-profile debates to be shown in a constituent part of the UK where they are unquestionably one of the major parties, have not precipitously jumped into legal action, and have instead engaged intensively and constructively in the search for an acceptable compromise? Or is it the London parties, who haven't given an inch, and who undoubtedly seem to feel an automatic 'entitlement' that their cosy, private, exclusive, three-way chat should be broadcast in primetime in Scotland, without even the slightest concession to the fact that they are not the only major parties who contest elections here?
The Labour MP Nick Palmer, who is typically one of the much saner voices on Political Betting, nevertheless also joined in the chorus of unionist indignation. In his view, "common sense" demanded that there be room for debate in which "Scottish" issues were covered, and in which the SNP should be included, but that there also be room for debate in which "UK" issues were dealt with, in which the SNP most definitely should not be included. In other words, the familiar holding-line that as long as there's a dedicated Scottish side-debate, it's somehow perfectly OK to pretend the SNP don't really exist and don't really have major-party status in Scotland when the main debates come round. This seems to be one of those classic occasions when 'common sense' is invoked despite (or perhaps because of) the proposition being put forward defying all sense of true logic. For what exactly, Dr Palmer might like to ponder, are the 'Scottish' issues supposedly at stake in this election? If he's talking about devolved matters, they're a complete irrelevance in a Westminster election. All four main parties in Scotland, including the SNP, are standing solely on their proposals for matters reserved to Westminster (at least that's the theory) and all should have an equal chance to put their case to the electorate in Scotland. But, of course, the debates will cover far more than just matters that are reserved in Scotland - much of them will focus on English domestic matters. In so doing, they will utterly confuse Scottish voters, many of whom will undoubtedly assume that what Labour or the Tories are proposing for the NHS or the criminal justice system would have full application in Scotland, whereas of course it would have no application here at all. So this is where the 'common sense' argument completely falls apart - if the format for these debates were being formulated rationally to reflect the way things actually are, there ought to be England-specific debates shown only in England in which the parties set out their policies in the many areas that are utterly irrelevant to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Then there could be equivalent debates shown only in Scotland which reflect the special circumstances that a) we have a four rather than three-party system, and b) only reserved matters are at play here.
But, of course, this being the Anglo-centric UK, such a rational arrangement is probably utterly impossible. In which case, natural fairness demands that some kind of compromise arrangement be agreed that allows the SNP to put their case in the main debates, however inconvenient that may be, and tiresome it may seem, to the 'entitled' few.