Tuesday, October 06, 2009

With Respect, Mr Cameron...

Seeing as it's this blog's third birthday today, it's probably time to break the recent haitus...

...and the recent partisan claptrap about SNP participation in a party leaders' debate seems as good a place to begin as any.

Let's cut to the chase. In the UK, there are strict rules about broadcasting impartiality when it comes to politics. These don't often work to the SNP's advantage when it comes to the balance achieved between 'network' and 'regional' coverage during a Westminster election, but the rules exist, and they're there for a reason.

You would think, therefore, that if a party leaders' debate were to be proposed, that any sensible, fair minded person would have little difficulty in agreeing that the debate or debates which resulted ought to respect and reflect these rules. Ha. Mention the necessity to ensure that parties other than Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems be represented, and out sallies a hellish legion of talking heads in parliament and in print, determined to berate others for their impertinence in seeking to disrupt the binary Westminster agenda, in a vain attempt to disguise their own self interest in skewing and narrowing the debate which would result.

The most substantial criticism, if you can call it that, of including Plaid Cymru and the SNP in any debates is that they are are 'regional' parties, that they don't contest seats in all parts of the UK, or that they're not going to form the next UK government. On the first count, you could exclude the Tories, since the SNP has almost as many MPs in England as the Tories manage in Scotland (zero plays one). On the second, you could exclude every party except the Conservatives, and on the third count, you might as well tell Vince Clegg to save his taxi fare to the studio.

Now, lest anyone think I'm ditching my customary reasonableness here, let me say that I can see perfectly well why people in England might not want to see a debate involving Alex Salmond or Ieuan Wyn Jones. I can also see that a debate involving 5 or more people could quickly become unwieldy. However, if there's to be a 'leaders' debate', then over the piece it has to involve the leaders of all the main parties. Let's call it as it is - to exclude those who happen to sit in government in Scotland and Wales, one of whom just happens to be the longest-serving party leader in British politics, would be an act of base gerrymandering, which would discredit the entire process. Grist to the nationalist mill it might be, but frankly, isn't there a better way for everyone?

A separate Scottish debate involving the branch managers of the Scottish parties would be the answer to a question no-one is asking. Given the prevalence of satellite TV and internet video, it's difficult to see how any English-only debate (because let's be honest, that's all a showdown between Brown, Cameron and Clegg would be) could be kept off Scottish screens. Which is why the best way to solve this problem, once fevered brows have been cooled, would be to have separate debates in Scotland and Wales which include Brown, Cameron and Clegg.

I've no desire to keep the titanic triumvirate off English TV screens, but I have a desire to see that fairness prevails in Scotland and Wales. Voters are entitled to see how all the party leaders perform against eachother, as well as getting an idea of how they would approach Scotland and Wales over the next term at Westminster. Separate Scottish and Welsh debates would ensure that this is exactly what happens.

David Cameron has promised, if elected, to govern Scotland 'with respect'. With all due respect to Mr Cameron, I'm afraid I don't really believe him. However, he could make a good start on changing people's minds by agreeing to come to Glasgow to take part in a televised debate with Brown and Clegg against Alex Salmond.

If the UK's politicians and broadcasters can't come up with a solution to this problem which reflects the plurality of the British political system, it really doesn't say much for the prospects of that system surviving much longer. Come on, Dave. Be a man and admit you've called this one wrong. Let's see just how far that sense of fair play of yours extends...


subrosa said...

Happy Blog Birthday. I expect someone's already designed an e-card for that but I'm not going to do a google search.

Searching isn't my forte, takes me hours.

Anonymous said...

Or, alternatively, have one-on-one debates, Paxo vs Brown, Paxo vs cameron, etc, with the Liberals', Tories, and Labour's debate being shown nationwide and the SNP's debate being shown in Scotland, and Plaid's in Wales immediately afterwards.