I wondered aloud the other day why the SNP hadn't yet made clear whether it would seek legal redress for its exclusion from the main televised leaders' debates. This article in the Scotsman goes a long way towards answering that question, because it appears the party (along with Plaid Cymru) were deliberately kept in the dark about the announcement, and thus hadn't even been given the chance to formulate a view on its strategy when it was forced to give an initial response. This does appear to be an extraordinarily high-handed way for them to have been treated - as has been set out many times here, the case for excluding the SNP from any debates shown in Scotland is extremely thin, but the case for excluding them even from the discussions over the issue, and from the general courtesies of the process, is absolutely non-existent. These are parliamentary elections - we are about to elect a parliament. Sleights of hand about 'Prime Ministerial Debates' do not alter that indisputable truth about the function of the general election, and of the television coverage that will inform voters' choices. To treat a party that has had continuous representation in parliament for the last forty-three years as if it has no stake at all in this process - as if it was some kind of fringe organisation on a par with the Natural Law Party - is genuinely outrageous.
However, it sounds as if - after a period of reflection - the SNP and its Welsh sister party have now come up with the right way forward. Firstly, they will seek the access to discussions they have thus far been denied, and if that is still not forthcoming they can then decide on the merits of legal action. For me, the key line of the article is this - "the SNP and Plaid want to discuss how they can receive a balance of 90 minutes lost to them from the leaders' debates". That zones in on the nub of the issue. When Question Time leaders' specials have been shown across the UK in previous elections, there has always been an equivalent programme shown only in Scotland featuring the SNP leader alone. So the precedents could hardly be clearer. The only thing that can correct the gross imbalance in coverage caused by the 'Prime Ministerial Debates' is a similar programme, or more likely series of programmes, featuring Alex Salmond or Angus Robertson alone. As has been repeatedly pointed out, additional Scottish leaders' debates cannot possibly fulfil the same corrective function, for the very simple reason that the three other parties that have already received their massive bonus coverage will also be invited to take part in them.
The myth, or perhaps it could be better described as a synthetic conviction, that the Scottish debates - which are perfectly welcome on their own merits - can in some way address this issue is what must be exploded in the coming days and weeks.