PRIME Minister David Cameron was under renewed pressure last night to take part in a televised debate with Alex Salmond on the prospect of Scottish independence.
Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon led the calls, following reports yesterday that Mr Cameron could take part in a TV debate with Ukip leader Nigel Farage as part of a series of broadcast showdowns in the run-up to the 2015 General Election.
The Prime Minister was reported to be open to a “2-3-5” format drawn up by his aides that would see him hold one head-to-head debate with Labour leader Ed Miliband – as the other potential prime minister – a second, which would also include Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, and a third with Mr Farage and the Green party leader Natalie Bennett.
Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s astonishing that David Cameron is happy to have a head-to-head debate with Nigel Farage, whose party doesn’t have a single seat in the House of Commons, but continues to run scared of a debate on the future of Scotland with First Minister Alex Salmond.
“We now know he is happy to debate with the leader of Ukip, who constantly lose their election deposits in Scotland, but is not willing to debate with Scotland’s democratically elected First Minister.
“That begs the question: what is he afraid of?
“It was reported on Saturday that the Prime Minister is to visit Scotland more often over the next few months in order to campaign for a No vote.
“Why on earth is he not happy to publicly debate his position? The Prime Minister should stop snubbing Scotland.”
Responding to Ms Sturgeon’s comments, No 10 pointed to a letter the Prime Minster wrote to Mr Salmond last autumn.
Mr Cameron wrote: “I have already made clear that it is not me you should be debating with head-to-head on TV, but Alistair Darling.”
He added: “Separation would be forever, not just for the length of a five-year term.
“The referendum is therefore too important to be reduced to the status of some glorified General Election.
“People should cast their vote in the knowledge that they are deciding not just for themselves, but also for succeeding generations. It is for people in Scotland to decide. And it is right for you and Alistair Darling, as the leaders of the respective campaigns, with votes to cast as well as votes to win, to debate head-to-head on TV.”
Labour leader Ed Miliband refused to say whether he would call for Mr Cameron’s resignation if Scotland votes to leave the UK.
He said: “I am convinced and confident that the Better Together campaign can win this.
“This goes beyond any one party. This is an existential question for the UK.”
Senior Labour sources have already decided that if the campaign is to be won then their party has to achieve it “without the Tories”.
Britain’s first TV debates, between Mr Cameron, Gordon Brown and Mr Clegg, were staged in 2010 after prolonged negotiations between the parties and TV companies, which resulted in very strict rules on the style of questioning and the division of time for leaders’ answers.
Mr Cameron has since complained that they “took all the life out” of the campaign amid constant speculation over whether the practice would be revived.
Mr Farage repeated his challenge to the Conservative leader in response to claims he was “chicken” for ruling out a run at Parliament in the Newark by-election.
The Ukip leader said: “Mr Cameron said… that I was a chicken.
“Well, I’ll tell you what Dave, why don’t you come on telly and do a debate with me?”