SNP call for inclusion in election TV debate

The first televised general election leaders debate in 2010. Picture: Getty

The first televised general election leaders debate in 2010. Picture: Getty

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THE case for the SNP to be given a place in a televised General Election debate for UK leaders is “unanswerable”, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said as her party prepares for a possible legal challenge to being excluded.

The SNP leader’s demands came as Prime Minister David Cameron was accused by Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liberal Democrat Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg of “running scared” of a televised debate by refusing to be involved unless the Greens are given a place.

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Currently, the proposal is for a debate involving Mr Cameron, Mr Miliband, Mr Clegg and Ukip leader Nigel Farage; a threeway debate excluding Mr Farage; and finally a head-to-head between the PM and Labour leader.

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However, pressure is also mounting for the SNP to be given a place in the debates, after recent polls suggested it could win 52 of Scotland’s 59 seats and hold the balance of power after the May election.

A senior SNP source told The Scotsman the party was waiting for the broadcasters to conclude a consultation and “there is a willingness to involve us”.

The source said: “We have been to court over this before but 2015 is very different to 2010.

“This time we are looking at a multi-party outcome.”

The source added: “It would be wrong to make threats now before we know the outcome of the consultation.”

Speaking on a visit to Aberdeenshire, Ms Sturgeon said: “It’s a simple democratic argument. The SNP is Scotland’s biggest political party, we’re also the UK’s third biggest political party.

“We may hold a lot of influence in the UK parliament after the General Election and if we do, then it’s not just voters in Scotland who have got a right to hear what we have to say. Voters across the UK have a right to hear how we would use that influence.

“There’s no argument against having the SNP in these debates and if we weren’t included then it would be an absolute democratic outrage.”

Mr Cameron was challenged on the debates during Prime Minister’s Questions, with Mr Miliband accusing him of making “pathetic excuses” by insisting he would not take part if the Greens are not involved.

Earlier, Mr Clegg and Mr Farage wrote to the PM demanding he changed his mind.

Mr Miliband said in 2010 Mr Cameron condemned “feeble” reasons for backing out of debates, and said “no-one believed” his protests were genuine now.

“It is frankly a pathetic excuse. It is not for him, it is not for me, it is not for any party leader to decide who is in the debate. It is up to the broadcasters, that is the country we live in,” he said.

With Mr Clegg heckling from the government benches shouting “excuses”, Mr Cameron hit back saying Mr Miliband was “chicken” for being unwilling to face off against Green Party leader Natalie Bennett. “Why is he frightened of debating the Green Party?” he asked.

Mr Farage said the BBC would be within its rights “to hold these debates whether Mr Cameron turned up or not”.

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