Tuesday, December 22, 2009

TV debates: Let's not be beastly to the Nationalists

Writing about the prospect of debates between the party leaders back in September, I said:

The arrangements under which the party gets close to equal treatment with the two main parties during election campaigns were hard won. If Sky TV is allowed to tear them up (if there is more than one debate, will Nick Clegg be invited to all of them?) we are unlikely to gain from it.

As far as the media are concerned, the story is Labour vs Tory, Brown vs Cameron. The Lib Dems and Nick Clegg are a distraction to this and if they can sideline us they will.

We seem to have avoided this danger (well done to the Lib Dem negotiators for getting us equal treatment), but I do not feel we should gloat about it too much. So I have limited enthusiasm for my fellow Lib Dem bloggers' triumphalist reaction to the Nationalists' complaints that they have been excluded from the debates.

Liberal Revolution talks of PC/SNP and other whingers. And Stuart Bonar, who is the Liberal Democrat parliamentary spokesman for Plymouth Moor View - which turns out to be a constituency and not a guest house, as I first thought - asks What exactly do the Scot Nats or Plaid Cymru have to say to Plymouth?

Ultimately, I think the decision to exclude the Nationalists from the debates broadcast across Britain is the right one. But in victory magnanimity, there but for the Grace of God and don't count your chickens before they are hatched.


dazmando said...

I think your right. We are lucky to get this let's not bragg about it. - think Clegg will do well. The papers may not like it but plenty of people vote lid dem and they should see Clegg there too. I'm still not confident that this will happen as UKIP and the greens will also want a pice of the action then that could even scupper our chances

John said...

I don't undetstand the problem with my posting - it stands to reason that if you don't stand in all constituencies (barring a few mishaps) then you don't have a national party so how can you take part in a national debate?

Well done to our negotiators to get equal treatment - however, as a party who will stand in areas as diversely fruitful as Cambridge and Ashton-Under-Lyne we have a RIGHT to equal treatment.

James Dowden said...

The problem is marginal seats: do you really want, say, to let the Tories have extra publicity over Plaid Cymru in Aberconwy? Or Labour over Plaid Cymru in Llanelli? Or even the Lib Dems over Plaid Cymru in Ceredigion? That would be Mugabe-esque.

Of course, the real answer is to replace the devolution attempt to reinvent the wheel with a constitutionally coherent status, as was the Irish Free State before De Valera dismantled it from within. It would be relatively simple to apply the existing Statute of Westminster to Wales and Scotland. Seeing as the Tories like using old-fashioned solutions, perhaps they could promise this... Then the English media could have their presidential election.

Blab said...

Of course for those of us living in Northern ireland the debates will be missing most of the parties we can actually vote for. Through their newly formed alliance with the Usler Unionists the Tories will be flielding joint candidiates (though none have yet been selelcted and the wheels could come off as this process develops). No Labour or Lib Dem candidites are standing. Can we have our own debate? Or would you you like to add Peter Robinson et al to the UK one?

crewegwyn said...

Ah, but don't forget that if you're REALLY going to have an inclusive debate for Wales, you'd need to hold debates in two languages.

Which is my (only slightly tongue in cheek) observation on the suggestion that a national debate should reflect the particular circumstances of parts of the U.K.

Let the Scottish media hold a debate for the voters of North Britain. Let the Welsh media hold one for Cymru. If Sky (Sports) can offer a (red button) facility for Welsh commentary on football matches, then localised debates can also be held.

Of course, bearing in mind that MK are contesting every seat in Kernow .........

DougtheDug said...

Ultimately, I think the decision to exclude the Nationalists from the debates broadcast across Britain is the right one.

The SNP is not demanding to take part in the debates broadcast across Britain, it's demanding to take part in any debate broadcast in Scotland.

Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg is on the presidential style debate as the third man because he has to be there as under the OFCOM guidelines the Lib-Dems are classed as a major party along with Labour and the Conservatives.

However broadcast time for parties in Scotland during an election is worked out in a Scottish context not a UK one and OFCOM classify the SNP as a major party in Scotland.

For any political programme broadcast in Scotland the SNP have to be treated as equal to the Lib-Dems, Labour and the Conservatives. Since the high profile debates are going to be broadcast in Scotland and will be a three way affair which cuts the SNP out of the loop then the SNP will probably be successful in blocking them from being broadcast in Scotland unless they get on the platform with the other three.

What a lot of posters and commenters in other blogs fail to understand is that the SNP is demanding equal airtime not in a UK context but in a Scottish one and that any court will also decide on the impartiality of the debate in a Scottish context. Who debates who on TV in the rest of the UK doesn't concern them but who debates who in Scotland will concern any court asked to make a decision on the impartiality of the broadcast under the current guidelines and legislation which apply to Scotland.

Here's a wee quote from the supremely liberal and democratic Scottish regional Lib-Dem Leader, Tavish Scott:

"Salmond's position is anti-democratic and supremely arrogant. He should go home, put on the cooker and prepare the turkey because that would more useful than his pathetic ranting about an election he's not even contesting."

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

@DougtheDoug - I've not seen the SNP demands in depth on this but Plaid Cymrue are talking about wanting to be in a UK wide-debate for a number of reasons:

* A lot of Welsh voters spend much time outside Wales (particularly students) and cannot access Welsh television

* A sizeable chunk of east Wales gets its television from the West Midlands transmitters, partially for geographic reasons but also because historically this has been the only way to get the full English language service without interruptions. However I don't believe broadcasting has ever formally acknowledged this.

*For many years Plaid have wanted the ability to address the UK wide electorate to be able to explain what changes they want to the Union.

Scotland is a slightly different situation because it doesn't have a sizeable population around the borders, unlike Wales. However there is the problem that the ITV Border region (and, I think, the corresponding BBC one) officially covers part of both England and Scotland (and then there's the issue of Northern Ireland transmissions making their way over the sea) which means it's very difficult to create a workable broadcasting partition.

As for Salmond himself, Tavish Scott has this on the mark. If the SNP are allowed access to any debates for the general election, they should only be allowed to send actual candidates in the election. And it just makes far more sense for the SNP's message on what it wants to do at Westminster to be given by their Westminster leader.

DougtheDug said...

Tim Roll-Pickering:

If the debate issue comes to court in Scotland then it will be judged on the political impartiality rules as they apply to Scotland, the OFCOM guidelines as they apply to Scotland and the rules on Party Election Broadcasts (PEB's) as they apply to Scotland not on a UK wide basis. The debate may be recorded outside Scotland but once that broadcast crosses the Scottish border it comes under Scottish rules and the rules on PEB's and the OFCOM guidelines recognise the internal national boundaries in the UK.

If the judgment is that Alex Salmond has to be on any multi-party debate broadcast in Scotland then the technical difficulties the broadcasters face in complying with the judge's decision are not the problem of the judge nor of the SNP. They may find a technical solution or they may have to put Alex Salmond on the UK broadcast to comply with the judgement however Alex Salmond has no interest in being on a UK broadcast. Why should he? The SNP have no candidates outside Scotland and very few supporters who return to Scotland to vote.

The broadcasters have hyped these debates up and crossed their fingers that they can ride roughshod over the rules in Scotland and Wales. If it goes against them then it's nobody's fault but their own.

"As for Salmond himself, Tavish Scott has this on the mark. If the SNP are allowed access to any debates for the general election, they should only be allowed to send actual candidates in the election."

Tavish very rarely if ever has anything on the mark. If you can point me to any section, paragraph or line in the rules on party election broadcasts where it says only Westminster candidates can take part in PEB's or represent their party on Television I'll be amazed because I haven't found any.

A lot of comment on these debates is by people who haven't read the relevant legislation or understood that the SNP is going to fight this on the rules as they apply to Scotland. Tavish is one of them.