DAVID Cameron has rejected Alex Salmond’s demand that the two face one another in a television debate on the future of Scotland ahead of the independence referendum.
Instead, the Prime Minister told Mr Salmond he should debate with former Labour chancellor Alistair Darling, head of the Better Together campaign.
In a letter to Mr Salmond, the Prime Minister accused the SNP First Minister of trying to use the issue of a debate as “a diversionary tactic”, telling him that he does not get to choose the opposing team’s captain.
But Mr Salmond accused Mr Cameron of being “feart” and pointed out that the Prime Minister also appeared to be avoiding taking part in a repeat of the main party leaders’ general election debates in 2015 – similar to the ones in which he, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg took part during the 2010 campaign.
The letter was a response to correspondence sent by Mr Salmond earlier this week, challenging the Prime Minister to a televised debate. It comes as the Tories plan to put the defence of the Union at the heart of their conference, with Scottish leader Ruth Davidson set to introduce Mr Cameron for his keynote speech on Wednesday.
Mr Cameron wrote: “I have already made clear – and will continue to do so – that it is not me you should be debating with head-to-head on TV, but Alistair Darling.
“It is time for the two campaigns and the broadcasters to meet and start working to make these debates happen.”
He went on: “Alistair has been asked by all of the pro-UK parties in Scotland to lead the campaign for a No vote.
“It is entirely right for you to place yourself at the head of the Yes campaign, but not to decide who should lead for the No campaign, too.
“It is a well understood and reasonable principle that you get to pick your own team’s captain, but not your opponents’
Mr Cameron added: “It is a convenient means of deflecting attention away from the real issues – the lack of credibility of your plans for a currency union, funding pensions and managing volatile oil revenues.
“You want the independence debate to be an argument between you and me; the Scottish Government and UK Government; the SNP and Conservative Party – in fact anything rather than what it really is about. Nor is your argument with the rest of the United Kingdom, it is with the people in Scotland.”
He pointed out that the decision to break up the UK would be irreversible and said that any debate should not be reduced to the status of a “glorified general election campaign”.
However, Mr Salmond insisted that the “highly political nature” of Mr Cameron’s letter to him underlined why the two should go head-to-head in a debate.
He said: “He [Mr Cameron] is in the impossible position of continuing to enter the debate on Scottish independence without actually being willing to have a head-to-head debate.
“I would like the opportunity to counter the various spurious and unfounded claims about an independent Scotland he has made in his letter, and the best way to do that is by way of a live televised debate.”
He went on: “The government in which Mr Cameron serves as Prime Minister is central to the entire referendum debate from the perspective of the No campaign. The reality is, his government continues to make decisions affecting Scotland, such as the implementation of the hated bedroom tax and the deeply unpopular privatisation of the Royal Mail, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of Scots didn’t vote for him or the Tory Party.
“I have noted the Prime Minister’s apparent unwillingness to take part in another general election debate and I’m sure people will draw their own conclusions from that.
“Indeed, I believe that his refusal to debate Scotland’s future with me can be summed up in one word – ‘feart’.”