Monday, November 18, 2019

Lib Dem ransom demand may ensure the SNP take the BBC to court

The Liberal Democrats have become noticeably less frosty today about the SNP joining them in challenging ITV's rigged leaders' debate in court.  It's unlikely that they're being friendlier out of the sheer kindness of their hearts, so I can think of two possible explanations: a) their lawyers have told them there's a better chance of success if the case doesn't seem to be motivated by narrow self-interest, or b) their double-standards in saying that the SNP should be excluded has led to negative responses in focus groups or internal polling.

The courts tend to be conservative with a small 'c', so I think we have to presume that the balance of probability is that today's challenge will fail.  But let's suppose for the purposes of speculation that the court thinks the arguments on each side are finely-balanced.  If so, it could be that we've been very unlucky that the ITV format has had to be challenged first, because it seems to me that ITV's defence of what they're doing is slightly less weak than the BBC's or Sky's.  They've got an interview-based programme scheduled for after the debate on Tuesday night, featuring leaders of the excluded parties but not Labour or the Tories.  That was clearly a wheeze dreamed up with the specific aim of making the debate court-proof, and it might just work.  But as far as I'm aware, the BBC and Sky have no such programme planned, so even if the ITV debate is upheld, it's still possible that the BBC and Sky debates might be shown the red card if the SNP launch further legal challenges later on.  Would they, though?  Or would they be demoralised by a first defeat and think there is little point in taking the matter further?

What might tip the balance in favour of them fighting to the end is an extraordinary letter the Liberal Democrats have sent to the BBC, which almost reads like a ransom demand -

"In light of all of the above you are now required to confirm, by 5pm on Wednesday November 20, 2019, that Jo Swinson will be invited to take part in any ‘leaders’ debate’ to be broadcast by BBC during the current General Election campaign."

If the Lib Dems are determined to take the BBC to court, come what may, I would guess the SNP will feel they have to be there as well to protect their own interests.  Because the one thing that would be even worse than a two-way debate excluding the SNP is a three-way debate excluding the SNP.

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I have another couple of constituency previews in today's edition of The National - this time it's Edinburgh East and Argyll & Bute.

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