I'm slightly perplexed by the reaction in some pro-independence quarters to the provisional Ofcom ruling, which was actually very helpful towards the case for SNP inclusion in the Westminster TV leaders' debates. A myth seems to have sprung up from somewhere that Ofcom ruled against the SNP's involvement, but nothing could be further from the truth. The question of who to invite to the debates isn't within Ofcom's remit anyway, as they've made clear. The most direct impact of their pronouncements will be on the apportionment of Party Election Broadcasts.
They will of course have a strong indirect influence on the format of the debates, and that's exactly why the provisional ruling is so helpful - it makes abundantly clear that not a single party comes even close to qualifying for major party status on a UK-wide basis. The only parties recognised as major parties in Northern Ireland are the DUP, Sinn Féin, the Alliance Party, the UUP and the SDLP - none of which even contest elections in England, Scotland or Wales. UKIP are only pencilled in for major party status in England and Wales, and will continue to be deemed a fringe party in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. The SNP naturally retain their major party status in Scotland, as do Plaid Cymru in Wales. The Tories, Labour and Liberal Democrats continue to be recognised as major parties in England, Scotland and Wales only - the Tories are a virtually irrelevant fringe party in Northern Ireland, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats are completely absent from politics in the province.
The idea of "reserving UK-wide debates for UK-wide parties" is therefore rendered an utter nonsense by Ofcom's ruling. The latest arrogant London media attempt to bludgeon everyone into a rigged debate is a joint Guardian/Telegraph initiative which is oh-so-generously extended to cover "all five main UK-wide parties". Yup, you've guessed it - the new "UK-wide" addition is the Green Party of England and Wales, which as the name suggests is a party that only puts up candidates in two of the four constituent nations of the UK, and is not recognised as a major party by Ofcom in any of the four nations. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are somehow billed as UK-wide in spite of only putting up candidates in three of the four constituent nations, while the Tories and UKIP are called UK-wide in spite of being regarded by Ofcom as fringe parties in one or two of the constituent nations. Meanwhile, no fewer than seven parties that are recognised by Ofcom as major parties in part but not all of the UK (putting them in a superior position to the Greens, and in exactly the same position as the other four London parties) are to be totally excluded from this "UK-wide" debate.
The world's gone mad. Or to put it more accurately, the media's stayed London-centric.
As James pointed out in a comment the other day, though, there's a really interesting snippet in the Ofcom document about the Liberal Democrats' claim to be a major party in Scotland. It's noted that the Lib Dems achieved a substantial level of support in Scotland at the last Westminster general election, but that their support has consistently been much lower since, both in elections and in opinion polls. It's difficult to escape the impression that the coming election is the potential final piece of the jigsaw, and that if the Lib Dems do as badly as we expect, their status as a major party in Scotland will be untenable. That would mean that they shouldn't really be invited to the Holyrood TV leaders' debates next year. It's worth remembering that they already hold fewer seats in the Scottish Parliament than either the Greens or the SSP secured in the 2003 election - and yet neither of those parties were invited to the main debates four years later.
If the Lib Dems are struck off Ofcom's list of major parties in Scotland but not in England, where then for "UK-wide debates" in the Westminster election after next? That would leave two of the broadcasters' four beloved "main parties" (UKIP and the Lib Dems) as fringe parties north of the border.
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Ah, the dear old Guardian. They seem to think that because Ed Miliband has said that he really, really, really wants to be Prime Minister of a majority Labour government, that somehow means he's ruling out a confidence-and-supply deal with the SNP.
I'll be honest with you - I really, really, really want a free holiday in Tahiti, but that doesn't mean I'm ruling out staying here for the next two weeks.
The Guardian also claims that the SNP have ruled out a full coalition with Labour, which is a load of rubbish as far as I can see. Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond have certainly downplayed the possibility of a full coalition, but they've always been scrupulously careful not to explicitly rule it out.
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