Further to my last post, it seems David Maddox at the Steamie has got a distinctly odd definition of the word ‘sinister’. If he thinks a political party demanding fair coverage in an election campaign is sinister, he should try imagining Peter Mandelson creeping up on him when he’s asleep, taking a DNA swab and then whispering in his ear “don’t worry, David, if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear”.
Maddox it seems to me, rather like the posters I encountered a few weeks ago, is so completely locked into a one-dimensional London-centric world view that he’s failed to see the SNP’s demand for what it actually is. They mean what they say, they do actually want to be part of the debates! But to Maddox, that is simply demanding the ‘impossible’, therefore it is tantamount to calling for a ban, and denying the poor Scottish public the right to watch their three (ahem) potential Prime Ministers in action. (Actually, I think they might be rather relieved to end up with a hastily-arranged repeat of Taggart instead.)
Point 1 – if Gordon Brown had been planning to debate Nick Clegg, and Nick Clegg only, on primetime TV in an election campaign, David Cameron would have demanded his right to be included. If the simple principle of fair coverage had not won the day, the Conservatives would undoubtedly have gone to court to seek redress. This would have been an action of last resort and a perfectly understandable one. So why should the SNP’s stance be seen any differently, when in the 59 constituencies of Scotland they compete on an (at least) equal basis with the three parties that Maddox seems to feel have an in-built right to bonus coverage?
Point 2 – why is fair coverage for the SNP in the debates ‘impossible’? It seems to me Maddox is simply guilty of a failure of imagination here. There are two possible solutions. Firstly, yes, Alex Salmond (or Angus Robertson) could simply be permitted to participate in debates shown throughout the UK - in practice this would probably mean only in some of the debates, with Plaid Cymru taking part in others. If Maddox can't conceive of such a thing happening, I'd point him in the direction of Canada. In the general election there last year (and presumably the same will be the case in the election about to take place) the Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe took part in the Canada-wide leaders' debates on an absolutely equal basis, in spite of the fact that his party only contests 25% of the seats. Why would the broadcasters there permit such a thing? Presumably because they take seriously their responsibilities to ensure fair and balanced coverage within Quebec. Furthermore, there is a precedent right here in the UK - in the 2005 general election, there were hour long leaders' specials on ITV that were broadcast throughout the UK. And there were four of them, not three. The first was divided between Alex Salmond and Ieuan Wyn Jones - an eminently fair and sensible arrangement.
The second solution however is simply to have Scotland-specific debates - which would be shown instead of, not in addition to, the debates shown in England. I'm not talking about mickey mouse debates featuring Jim Murphy, Michael Moore and David Mundell. I mean proper, full-scale debates featuring the leaders of the four main parties contesting seats in Scotland - Alex Salmond, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Oh, wait a moment, what's this new objection, David? The London leaders simply can't be expected to find the time, or it would be beneath their dignity? Well, doesn't that say something about their attitude to Scotland, this 'full and equal partner' in our United Kingdom.