By Anne-Marie O’Donnell
Prime Minister David Cameron has bowed to public pressure and said he would be “delighted” to address floating voters in a television studio after previously insisting the independence debate should take place only between Scots.
Mr Cameron made the comments during an interview with STV on Monday, despite previously claiming the referendum debate was a matter for “Scots living in Scotland” when challenged to debate First Minister Alex Salmond on live TV.
Welcoming the “significant u-turn”, Mr Salmond said: “In one interview, David Cameron has removed his only argument against taking part in a referendum debate – by agreeing to go into an STV studio to make the case against independence to an audience of floating voters, he has abandoned his previous position that this is exclusively a matter for ‘Scots living in Scotland’. That is a welcome and significant U-turn.
“David Cameron is the head of the UK Government working for a No vote, and given that he has now pledged to come back to Scotland to take part in a referendum TV discussion, in these circumstances it is sensible to have that debate for undecided voters with me as the head of the Scottish Government seeking a Yes vote.”
The No campaign has repeatedly rebuffed calls from the SNP to provide people in Scotland with live, televised debates on the key issues surrounding Scottish independence between the Prime Minister and First Minister. In September last year, Mr Cameron claimed requests for a debate were a “divisionary tactic” and accused Mr Salmond of “deflecting attention away from the real issues”.
Instead, Mr Cameron has put forward Better Together leader and former Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling as a replacement, despite criticisms over Mr Darling’s handling of the No campaign. But while Mr Cameron has insisted the debate should take place within Scotland, the Westminster government has been actively engaged behind the scenes in trying to dissuade Scots from voting Yes in the independence referendum.
Earlier this month, Mr Cameron even publicly pleaded with people across the UK to “pick up the phone” to friends and family in Scotland and urge them to stay within the union. However, Mr Cameron has shown no signs yet that he is prepared to engage in a full debate with the head of the Scottish Government.
Repeating Mr Cameron’s stance on debate, Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall appeared on BBC Scotland’s Morning Call on Monday and again insisted that only Scots should take part in the debate, despite the repercussions of independence on the whole of the UK, and accused Mr Salmond of trying to pick a fight.
“This is a decision for us as Scots in Scotland,” he added. “I think everybody can see what’s going on with this call to debate David Cameron, the desperation to avoid having a debate with people who have actually got a vote in the referendum. He’s [Mr Salmond] desperate to turn this into a fight with England.”
Mr Cameron spoke to STV during a rare trip to Scotland this week for a Cabinet meeting – only the second such occasion in 90 years – however Scottish media outlets such as the Daily Record lambasted the prime minister for failing to meet with voters during the trip.
“Yesterday, David Cameron came to Scotland and dodged the voters,” Mr Salmond added. “Hopefully, the Prime Minister went homewards and thought again – and as well as agreeing to take questions from voters in an STV studio, he will take the next step and agree to debate.”