Friday, 5 March 2010


The SNP and Plaid Cymru are to review their policies in regard to the BBC licence fee in the wake row over the presidential-style debates to be broadcast in the run up to the Westminster election. Each party will look again at its broadcasting policy in response to what they call a 'stitch up' over live prime ministerial TV debates.

The BBC says that separate leader debates will be held in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. This does not, however, alter the fact that the three English based parties will have 3 x 90 extra minutes of exposure beamed in to every home in Scotland, Wales and NI.

Labour’s Anne McGuire MP said on Newsnight Scotland that the three debates will have interest for people UK wide. After being corrected by Gordon Brewer, she acknowledged that the first debate will concentrate on Health and Education with Immigration tacked on, although neither of the main topics are relevant to the Celtic countries and the immigration situation in England is entirely different from that, at least, in Scotland.

Many of the topics which may be discussed will not be relevant in the Celtic countries. For some this will simply be boring, but for others it will be misleading, and in extreme cases may lead to someone voting for a policy which will not be enacted in their country.

Labour and the Tories insist that, as Alex Salmond is not going to be the next Prime Minister there is no reason to ask him to debate even on devolved matters. As the SNP’s election co-ordinator, Stewart Hosie MP (pictured) pointed out, we do not vote for a prime minister in the UK. We vote for a person, usually representing a political party, in any one constituency.

It follows from that that it is the monarch who, theoretically, decides who will be the next PM when she asks them to form a Government.

As Stewart pointed out, it is not a potential prime ministerial debate but a leaders’ debate and as such should include Alex Salmond. The BBC’s own website continues to call them prime ministerial debates possibly as an excuse for not including the SNP and Plaid. But why then are they including the Liberal Democrats? We know that either Gordon Brown or David Cameron will be the next PM. We also know that Nick Clegg will not, so why is he included?

Stewart pointed out that Canada's state broadcaster manages to have leaders’ debates across five parties, in two languages. He has sought to enter into discussions with the BBC but he said that whereas Sky had engaged with him, the BBC had not given substantive answers to his points. At that point, unfortunately Brewer cut him off. It is perhaps ironic that the state broadcaster for which we all pay is less inclined to take a non partisan line than an organisation which is commercial and owned by a foreign media mogul with a reputation for promoting a strongly partisan agenda.

Plaid's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd said: "We met to discuss the unfair treatment of Welsh and Scottish licence fee payers who are being denied the opportunity by the public broadcaster to hear from their respective national parties in these set piece leaders debates. It is unacceptable for the people of Wales and Scotland to be short-changed in this way and for the leaders of London parties to be given an additional 90 minutes of prime time exposure.”

Is there an answer to this problem? From my personal point of view given that: all over the UK there are parties who have the right to be heard; only two could provide the next UK prime minister; since devolution many policies do not affect the whole of the UK; the UK has a parliamentary democracy and not a presidential system.... We should not have presidential debates.

This article from James Kelly on Scot Goes Pop, one of my favourite blogs, is worth a read.



  1. Tris, I'm not going to bother watching them. I can't be doing with all the pre-planned soundbites and drivel they talk. None has anything new to say.

  2. I doubt if I shall either Subrosa. The thought of 90 minutes with Brown and Cameron in the living room is sickening, specially if they are lying about English policies instead of policies that will actually effect me. Sorry, did I say lying; I meant er talking of course.

    You were quick off the mark there SR... The ink is barely dry on this article :-)

  3. If this is the beginning of the end of Londons TV tax then that will be a great irony.

    Will I miss the England cricket scores, or the latest about John Terry, no. Or Education, hospitals or crime, no wait thats England only when it is on the 6 o clock Pravda broadcast.

    Would I rather keep the £100 plus the TV tax costs me, you bet.

  4. Why would I an Englishman want to listen to Salmond debating with Brown, Cameron or Clegg? Not as if it's relevant to me unless the SNP start putting PPC's into Kent.

    Apart from that, good point :-D

  5. If any of these debates covered defense Salmond must be there because of the amount of Scottish troops in Afghanistan. If Trident is discussed, where it is based might just come up.

    If the economy is raised, who flushed the UK economy down the toilet, with a knock on effect in Scotland, Salmond should be there. As he is the only economist among them maybe the rest might learn something.

    I do not want to listen to debate about, English hospitals, education or law and order, so the only sensible option is English only debates on these items, broadcast only in England, and one UK wide on the economy, and defense.

  6. Dubbieside: I agree about the tax, most of which is spent in England, on Scottish households that wish to watch ITV 3 or Fourmore, or Sky sports, etc.

    I hate that tax. I've bought a tv recently and it sits for almost the entire time in the corner of the room costing me money to pay for people getting super first class flights to Thailand.... What!?!?!?

  7. Well, you have a good point QM. But by the same token I imagine that crime, prisons, education, health, farming, fisheries, local government, environment, transport, etc will come up in these debates, and that they will be dealt with from an English point of view.

    Completely naturally of course. In Scotland we understand that England is a huge country (by population) and that the bulk of the licence fee comes from there. What the Welsh Health Secretary is doing is no interest to you or me, because it won't affect us. What the Environment Minister in NI is proposing is of no interest at all to the rest of us.

    By the same token, I'm sure you see, that whether you have academies and trust hospitals (I’d advise against the latter btw... they seem to kill off half their patients whilst trying to reach bonus getting targets)...... is likewise of no interest to the rest of us, but it seems like we will have to sit through it, or at least pay for it through our licence fees. The unfortunate thing is that Clegg, Cameron and Brown can’t discuss the Scottish perspective, or the Welsh one or Irish one, because they have no authority to. But how many people will sit and listen to the English position on something, not actually being aware that this is nothing to do with them, and possibly vote according to their likes or dislikes of a policy? You would be amazed how many people don’t have much of an idea who deals with what.

    It’s like we all have to listen to a French election broadcast...

    My point is that it is an inappropriate form of information dissemination for various reasons....

    I don’t think Eck wants to put polis on your street by the way...... :¬)

  8. Dubbieside: I think you have a good point. I'm sure they would argue (technically correctly) that we have a Scottish prime minister and until recently a Scottish war minster.... and that it is the business of Westminster what the forces do.

    My personal belief is that the Scottish government should decide where and why Scottish soldiers are depolyed. But I know that legally my viewpoint is wrong.

  9. For anyone wishing to make a complaint about the SNP being excluded from the Party Leaders' debates, the link to the BBC's complaints service is below:

  10. Let's face it tris, this is a rigged election which will never reflect the views of the people. The disparity 'tween votes cast and seats won will be vast and non-sensical. The tories and the libdems will get, speaking very roughly, about the same. One party will elect up to a dozen if lucky, the other up to a brace, if very lucky.

    The focus of the Scottish body politic, the point where the country hinges, the place where its future will be decided, that place is now Holyrood. That is the fact of Devolution.

    When we said 'There shall be a Scottish Parliament' we announced the re-creation of a nation. Now we can see the results of that statement. The Westminster assembly becomes a side-show, a drag into our past.

    The foamings of the London leaders about their three-ring circus are nothing more than wraithes fae the grave. They might make ye shit yerself, but they cannae really hurt ye.

    Ah'm mair lookin' forward tae see next year's debates, if ah'm still here. Tae seein' Big Alec playin' wi Auntie Bella, Wee Tavish, an' whoever's leadin' the Labour sect by then, if they have anybody left.

    It's a better election anyroads. Ye get twa votes. Double the fun, double the heids-up tae ma grannie!

  11. Well Sophia, you gotta still be here at the next REAL general election. We can't do it all without you! Besides just think of the fun of two votes. Makes the walk to the polling station worthwhile!!

    You're right, it has for many of us become a side show (a pantomime some would say). What matters to us most is run from Edinburgh. We care about our kids getting an education and though it's not up to scratch, it's a sight better than in England; likewise our hospitals in the hands of Nicola and Shona are a sight better than with Andy Burnham. Our police and courts, our transport and so on, even under Lib/Labs were better run from Edinburgh.

    What is important and still done by England is our tax, pensions, and the bloody wars these people have to fight to keep on the right side of America. We need to take that away from them before they waste all our oil greasing their way in to President Obama's....erm favour!

  12. A sterling performance from Stewart I though considering that stupid labour woman. She is a perfect example of all woman short lists with the only thing to her credit being that she dumped Michael Forsythe in 1997.

  13. Come on guys, Salmond isn't even going to be a candidate in this election!

  14. "From my personal point of view given that: all over the UK there are parties who have the right to be heard; only two could provide the next UK prime minister; since devolution many policies do not affect the whole of the UK; the UK has a parliamentary democracy and not a presidential system.... We should not have presidential debates."

    A point I agree with entirely. The system devised for calculating the amount of airtime that the various parties get is based not on their chance to provide the PM but on the number of candidates they field and on their past performances in elections. The amount of airtime is worked out for each home nation not for the UK and each home nation has a different set of parties which are recognised by OFCOM.

    To try and graft a UK wide "presidential debate" on to a system which works on the basis of party airtime within each home nation is something that only those who are infatuated with US politics and who regard the UK as Greater England with celtic provinces would try and do.

    The comment I posted on Bellacaledonia lays out why the, "Presidential Debate", format is illegal and provides links to the documents concerned.

  15. Yes Munguin: Stewart Hosie was excellent. He remained cool and collected in the face of the banshee from the Labour Party (sorry, but she was) who refused to address the issues and preferred to make the same point over again that Alex Salmond isn't standing as PM. This misses the point that neither is, under our system mr Brown, Mr Clegg or Mr Cameron standing as PM.

    They are standing in their constituencies as MPs; they are taking part in the debates as party leaders; there is a disconnect.

  16. Dean: As I said to Munguin, the debates are party leader debates. None of the party leaders is standing as Prime Minister, since that has now been disallowed following a Scottish Election where Alex Salmond stood as FM.

  17. Dean.... Also refer you to Doug's post.

  18. Doug. Superb post. Thanks, I'm off to read your post now.

  19. Doug... great post. If anyone hasn't read yet, it I'd suggest the whole thread is worth a read.