Party leaders begin court action over exclusion from TV debates

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A court battle to ensure the leaders of the SNP and the Liberal Democrats are included in an ITV televised election debate will get underway today, as Jo Swinson condemned the BBC for “excluding the voice of Remain” from its debate.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the exclusion of Nicola Sturgeon and other party leaders from the ITV debate, which is due to be broadcast tomorrow night, was a “democratic disgrace”.

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the exclusion of Nicola Sturgeon and other party leaders from the ITV debate was a democratic disgrace. Picture: PA

SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said the exclusion of Nicola Sturgeon and other party leaders from the ITV debate was a democratic disgrace. Picture: PA

The Liberal Democrats also said that a similar decision by the BBC to only host Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn in a head-to-head debate would breach the channel’s legal obligation for “strict impartiality”.

Citing ITV’s own research which shows that the debates draw in viewers who are “otherwise uninterested in politics, or haven’t made their mind up”, Mr Blackford said the channel need to allow viewers to make their own decisions.

Ahead of today’s hearing, he said: “This challenge is not just about the SNP, it’s about fairness for every voter and viewer across the country who have a right to see the real choice at this election on that debate stage.

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“By excluding key parties from the debate, viewers are being deprived of the opportunity to make their own decisions, and voters in Scotland are not seeing their voting patterns reflected at all.”

He said that given that Scotland voted Remain in the EU referendum, and the SNP was “overwhelmingly backed” at the European elections and as a result, “key positions” would not be heard if the SNP “is not represented.”

“Labour and the Tories have not been the leading parties in Scotland at an election for around a decade, while the SNP has grown to become the third party in UK wide politics,” he said.

“It is simply false to tell viewers in Scotland that that is their choice when we know Scotland has repeatedly rejected both in recent elections and the SNP could well hold the balance of power on the 13th December.”

'Exclusion is clearly unlawful'

The Liberal Democrats, who are also challenging the ITV decision in the courts today, have sent a legal letter to the BBC after Jo Swinson was left out of its General Election TV debate due to be broadcast on December 6.

In the letter to the BBC’s director-general Tony Hall, the party’s lawyers warn the exclusion of Ms Swinson is “clearly unlawful” and gives the BBC a deadline of 5pm on Wednesday to invite her to take part.

The letter to Lord Hall, from a partner at law firm Kingsley Napley, said: “Most voters see Brexit as the single biggest issue for the UK, their single biggest concern and the central issue for this election. People are clearer today about where they stand on Brexit than which party they will vote for.

“That means the health of our democracy depends on having both sides of the Brexit debate represented at the ‘top table’, including at the BBC leaders’ debate.

“The BBC’s approach is fundamentally disrespectful to the many millions of people who strongly support remaining in the EU. It ignores their concerns, their right to be heard and to be represented. People need to hear the arguments about Remain and Leave in a balanced way, but the leaders of the Labour Party and Conservative Party both want Britain to leave the EU.”

The letter also states that the BBC would breach its strict legal obligation to achieve ‘due impartiality’ by “excluding the voice of Remain”.

Both ITV and the BBC declined to comment.