Although inclusive leaders' debates are undoubtedly the fairest outcome, I can't help feeling that the broadcasters have copped out somewhat. Past precedents and the logic that previously justified those precedents should have led us to three-cornered (and indeed all-female) debates this year between Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale and Ruth Davidson. Willie Rennie should have been excluded because the Liberal Democrats have fewer MSPs than the Greens did going into the 2007 election, when Robin Harper didn't receive an invitation to the debates. The Liberal Democrats also received a lower percentage of the list vote in 2011 than the Greens did in 2003. Rennie can't even pray in aid his party's results in recent non-Holyrood elections, because they were reduced to fringe party status in the 2012 local elections and the 2015 UK general election, and were completely wiped out in the 2014 European Parliament elections. Nor is it the case that one solitary Westminster MP is some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card - if it was, George Galloway would have been involved in the UK debates last year.
Consciously or unconsciously, I would guess what's happened here is that the broadcasters couldn't even conceive of excluding the Lib Dems, so they've brought the Greens in to give themselves cover for what would otherwise be the unjustifiable presence of Rennie. If the Lib Dems' support hadn't collapsed, we'd be looking at the traditional four-way debates and Patrick Harvie wouldn't have had any hope of a look-in. You might think that what we've ended up with is the right outcome and it doesn't really matter how we got here, but I'd say it does - there has to be some kind of objective criteria for inclusion and exclusion. The starting-point can't be "party X has to be included, no matter how little support they have, so we'll shape the rules to justify that outcome". Nor can it be (as it was in 2010) : "party X has to be excluded, no matter how popular they are". If the Greens have earned a place as of right in the 2016 debates, they must have more than earned a place in the 2007 debates - so where were they? If, on the other hand, the Greens fell short of the threshold in 2007, then both the Lib Dems and the Greens must have fallen even further short of the threshold this time - so what are Willie Rennie and Patrick Harvie doing there?
For better or worse, though, Harvie has secured his place, and that could have an impact on the prospects of the other parties. Here's how I think it could work out...
SNP : Bad news. Nicola Sturgeon could well need list seats to retain her overall majority, and she'll be fishing in the same pond as the Greens for some of her list votes.
Labour : Bad news. Labour are going to be mostly (perhaps even totally) dependent on list seats for their representation, so even if they lose fewer left-wing votes to the Greens than the SNP do, it could actually cost them a greater number of seats.
Conservatives : Unclear, but possibly good news. There are only so many list seats available, so a good Green showing could in theory harm the Tories. But it could also help them relative to Labour's performance, which may be all they really care about at this stage.
Liberal Democrats : Bad news. It's completely irrational, because the Lib Dems and Greens don't have a huge amount in common, but the same type of voter often seems to be attracted to both parties. The Lib Dems' status as the fourth-largest party could therefore be seriously threatened by Patrick Harvie being seen to be on an equal footing with Willie Rennie.
RISE and Solidarity : Unmitigated disaster. Harvie's inclusion will make the Greens look like the only credible radical left option on the list.
Having said all that, there's no guarantee that the Greens will actually make a telling breakthrough on the back of this. It's hard to see that Natalie Bennett's inclusion in the UK debates last year helped the Greens all that much. This is a golden opportunity for Patrick Harvie, but no more than that for now - it remains to be seen whether he will take full advantage of it.
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Is our old friend Mike "can't be arsed" Smithson the least self-aware political commentator in Britain? He returned to a familiar theme today -
"The Corbynistas are more than ready to use the term “Red Tories” to describe those in their party who oppose them. This is bull***t. The real Red Tories are those whose actions will lead to another Conservative majority and they are, of course the followers of Corbyn and McDonnell."
Smithson, of course, is the man who penned a rare editorial in May 2010 begging his party (the Lib Dems) to go into coalition with the Tories, in order to avoid the terrible "mistake" of keeping Labour in power. Well, they successfully avoided that "mistake", and were rewarded with near-extinction five years later. Yeah, Mike, with a track record like that, good luck with your efforts to brand Labour's most left-wing leadership in history as "the real Red Tories".
Would it be terribly unkind of me to point out that it was the Labour right that lost the last two elections to the Tories, not the Labour left? And if the heirs to Blair and Brown couldn't even "be arsed" (to use Smithson's favourite phrase) to put up a remotely credible candidate for leader after last year's defeat, that's ultimately their own responsibility, not Jeremy Corbyn's. It's occurred to me more than once that Bernie Sanders' biggest problem at the moment is that he isn't running against Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall.