Here is the current forecast for next year's general election result from the UK-Elect website -
Liberal Democrats 23
Sinn Féin 5
Plaid Cymru 3
This not only means that the SNP are expected to be comfortably the third-largest party in the next House of Commons, but also that they are predicted to hold the balance of power. Realistically, the only game in town would be a coalition or deal between Labour and the SNP, because neither a Labour/Lib Dem nor a Tory/Lib Dem coalition would be able to command a majority.
Now, of course, there are various forecasting models, and the above numbers are only derived from one. But based on the current information from polls, there is absolutely no credible model out there that would not have the SNP in third place. 38 is actually quite a conservative projection for the SNP's haul of seats - the Ipsos-Mori poll suggested they would have 54.
A UK general election is a parliamentary election - it's first and foremost a race to win the greatest number of seats in parliament. So how on Earth can any public service broadcaster propose to hold leaders' debates during such an election that include the parties that are projected to win the fourth and fifth largest number of seats, but totally exclude the party that is projected to win the third largest number of seats? How can it do so especially given that it knows that in all probability its decision will directly lead to the eventual result of that election being completely different from what it would have been if nature had been allowed to take its course? Just where do the broadcasters get the extraordinary self-confidence to set themselves up as the Gods of the electoral process in this way, with the freedom to make utterly arbitrary decisions that determine who governs us and the laws we must obey? Doesn't it trouble them, even for a moment, that they are tarnishing the UK's status as an advanced democracy capable of holding free and fair elections?
The BBC in particular have been resorting to desperately weak circular logic to justify the unjustifiable. The SNP are projected to be the third largest party, ahead of the Liberal Democrats and UKIP? Oh well, we don't only look at the current projections, we also have to look at the strength of each party at the last election. But at the last election, the SNP won six seats, and UKIP won zero? Oh well, we also have to take the polls into account. But it's precisely those polls that have given rise to the projections putting the SNP in third place? Oh well, we can't just look at one or two individual polls, we also have to look at the longer-term polling trend. But there has never been a time when the polling average hasn't suggested that UKIP would finish with fewer seats than the SNP? Oh stop being so bloody difficult will you, we're paid good money to come up with convincing excuses for the decision we've made on a whim to include Farage and exclude Sturgeon, and you're not making this easy for us!
By all means let's make sure it's not easy for them. In an effort to look reasonable and open-minded while not actually budging an inch, a spokesperson mentioned yesterday that a BBC Trust consultation would shortly get underway on the guidelines that will cover the debates. The SNP cleverly leaped on that announcement and praised it to the skies, leading rather amusingly to a different spokesperson having to backtrack furiously because it had become clear that expectations for the impact of the consultation were running out of the BBC's control. It turns out that it's just a generic consultation for the guidelines that will cover the election period as a whole, and not specifically the leaders' debates. But as far as I can see the debates will still fall within the remit of the consultation, so there's nothing to stop us sending in a tonne of submissions that basically say : "The main flaw in the proposed guidelines is that they do not address the need to ensure that the party projected to finish third in the general election is treated with due fairness, and is included in any leaders' debates alongside the parties that are projected to finish fourth and fifth."
We'll have to keep our eyes peeled for the start of this consultation.