David Cameron said he would only take part in a debate if it was held before the short campaign started. This was clearly a bid for the prime minister not to have to take part in any debates at all, which is why it’s so refreshing that the Daily Telegraph, often referred to in less than flattering tones as the Torygraph, has decided to lead the charge in calling the Tory leader’s bluff and offering to host a debate (in conjunction with others such as Google of course).
The prospective line up (should it go ahead) would be Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Farage, Bennett. This seems completely sensible. Busy, but not unmanageably so. Some might argue that after 7-7-2 had been floated, surely the SNP and Plaid Cymru needed to be included.
No. When Cameron and those around him talk about the “shambles” the broadcasters have supposedly made of the debates debate, they are mostly talking out of their behinds, desperate to make the event not happening look like anyone but Cameron’s fault. However, they do have half a point in one respect: letting the nationalist parties have a hope of taking part was unbelievably stupid. Particularly as the criteria for excluding them is very simple: they aren’t UK wide parties by their very definition of themselves.
The SNP will not run any candidates in England. Or Wales. Or Northern Ireland. This is an extremely obvious thing to point out, yet this does not seem to have occurred to the broadcasters when thinking about the 7-7-2 format. Tories, Labour, Lib Dem – running everywhere apart from Nord Iron (which is a whole different kettle of fish) – obviously countrywide parties. UKIP and the Greens? While I don’t like either party much, I have to concede that in ambition if nothing else, both wish to have seats everywhere in the country. UKIP, often derided as an English party, did manage to win seats in the Euro elections in Scotland, as a for instance.
Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru and the SNP would never even pretend to be aiming for seats anywhere other than the sole nations they wish to represent. Which is fine – in a democratic country, they are welcome to attempt to get their MPs elected. However, the rest of us don’t have to take them for anything other than what they claim to be, i.e. small parties that even under the best of circumstances will not get more than 4% of the nationwide vote and aren’t even trying to get votes never mind seats outside of their very specific catchment areas. Given both Scotland and Wales have devolved parliaments, my argument only becomes more salient (before any silly Twitter comments regarding Cornwall and the Lib Dems, never mind the Tories in the south of England and Labour in the north).
I hope the five-strong line up on March 27th goes ahead. It would be nice to entrench a tradition of national debates. However, I don’t see why nationalist parties really have to be involved now or in future. So long as the United Kingdom remains intact, a party either has a vision that someone be they in St Ives, or Inverness, or Bognor Regis or Derry can relate to and have the chance to vote for – or they can stay outside of the debates.