Scotland politics

BBC invites Scottish party leaders to general election debate

Tory leader Ruth Davidson, Labour leader Johann Lamont and Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Scottish Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem leaders have been invited to debate alongside the SNP

BBC Scotland has written to the leaders of the main Holyrood political parties inviting them to discuss setting up general election debates.

The proposed TV debates would involve the leaders of the four major parties.

There is also a proposal by broadcasters for three UK prime ministerial debates.

The SNP has attacked its exclusion from the UK-wide debates, while the Scottish Greens said they should take part in the Scottish programmes.

Both parties, which campaigned for Scottish independence, have reported a big increase in membership in the wake of the referendum last month.

And UKIP, whose leader Nigel Farage is to be included in a UK-wide election debate, said its Scottish MEP, David Coburn, should take part in the debate in Scotland.

Scotland debates

The proposed debates would be screened on BBC One Scotland and also made available across the UK.

A BBC Scotland spokesman said: "In Scotland, the BBC is proposing a debate, in peak time on BBC One, involving the leaders of the SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative and Scottish Liberal Democrat parties.

"We have written to the parties today to begin discussions about our proposals and we will ensure impartiality during the election in Scotland.

"Full details of our content will be released over the coming months once they are finalised."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption BBC Scotland screened a live referendum debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond

The BBC, ITV, BSkyB and Channel 4 are also planning three UK-wide prime ministerial debates.

One would involve a head-to-head debate between the Conservative leader David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband, and another would include Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

The third debate would involve the three leaders plus UKIP leader Nigel Farage.

'Unacceptable'

Responding to the plans for UK debates, SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson said they would be "utterly unacceptable to any democrat".

He added: "What the London-based broadcasters are proposing fails in their duty to their viewers in Scotland, and simply doesn't reflect the reality of politics across the UK today.

"The broadcasters have the cheek to say that their proposed format factors in 'changes in the political landscape' to justify including UKIP - entirely ignoring the fact that the SNP are now by far the third largest political party in the UK.

"Current Westminster voting intentions put the SNP in the lead in Scotland, and it is clearly wrong that the leader of the third biggest political party in the UK should be shut out of these network debates."

Image caption The 2010 election had the UK's first prime ministerial TV debates

Labour leader Ed Miliband described the plans for UK debates as a "positive set of proposals".

He added: "They are a good basis for moving forward. But the most important thing is to give the public what they're entitled to, which is these TV debates.

"They happened in the last general election. We must make sure they happen in this general election too."

Reacting to the plans for a BBC Scotland debate, Scottish Green party co-convenor Patrick Harvie said: "These debates fail to reflect the truly unique situation Scotland now finds itself in, and we will be making representations to the broadcasters.

"People who voted 'Yes' and 'No' voted for change, with record numbers joining the Scottish Greens following the referendum.

"Greens across the UK are level pegging on polling with the Lib Dems so should not be excluded from high-profile TV debates featuring the coalition's austerity cheerleaders.

"Greens have also regularly been ahead of Lib Dems in polls for the Scottish Parliament, and our membership is now more than twice theirs."

'No fear'

UKIP Scottish chairman Arthur Misty Thackeray said: "We have had to fight tooth and nail to get ourselves accepted on to absolutely everything we have managed to get on, so I say to Angus: welcome to our world, mate."

He added: "We would have no fear of the SNP or Greens being included in these debates."

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives said the debates were for the general election, and would be broadcast "to all corners" of the UK.

He added: "With the best will in the world, the SNP is not fielding candidates in the vast majority of the country, and Nicola Sturgeon has no designs on being prime minister.

"It is likely there will be Scottish-focused general election debates broadcast here, at which point the SNP will have more than enough opportunity to take part."

BBC Scotland and STV both screened live debates between First Minister Alex Salmond and Better Together leader Alistair Darling during the referendum campaign.

Mr Clegg and Mr Farage also went head-to head in two debates in March and April this year on whether the UK should remain in the European Union.

More on this story