By a Newsnet reporter
Claims by David Cameron that Scottish broadcaster STV had “run away” from his offer to appear in a referendum TV programme, have been called into question after details of communications were released by the broadcaster.
Tonight STV has hit back after Mr Cameron claimed the it had rejected his offer to face floating voters in a question and answer type referendum special.
The row follows an interview conducted by STV Political Editor Bernard Ponsonby at the start of the year after Mr Cameron brought his cabinet up to the North East of Scotland in a referendum campaign visit. Asked by the STV man if he would agree to appear in a programme along with floating voters, Mr Cameron said yes, adding that he would be “delighted”.
Facing questions in the House of Commons today, the PM was asked if he would keep his pledge to appear on STV. Responding, the Conservative leader claimed his offer had been turned down by the broadcaster.
“On the television programme, I offered them [STV] a date and indeed a format but they seemed to run away themselves which is a great pity.” he told SNP MP Angus Robertson.
However STV immediately hit back saying it was the Prime Minister who had turned down their initial request before coming back with a restricted offer.
In a statement tonight, a spokewoman for STV responded to Mr Cameron’s claim and said: “STV proposed a format for this programme in January. This was rejected by Downing Street and the alternative editorial specification suggested by the Prime Minister’s office was not acceptable to STV.
“We are aware that undecided voters would appreciate the opportunity to put their questions to the Prime Minister before the referendum vote and as such STV’s programme offer still stands.”
Details of communications released by STV appear to suggest the Prime Minister was unwilling to take part in an interview by the station’s political editor Bernard Ponsonby and thereafter face questions from undecided voters. Mr Cameron’s director of communications offered for the PM to simply sit down with undecided voters instead.
Gordon Macmillan, STV’s head of news, revealed that STV had emailed Downing Street stating that the programme be a stand-alone programme editorially guided and moderated by STV.
He added: “We would require the event to be hosted by our political editor, and we would expect him to be able to interview the Prime Minister briefly and then moderate the subsequent discussion with voters.”
According to STV, ‘Downing Street’s director of communications Craig Oliver responded that the Prime Minister did not indicate he would be happy to record a longer, studio-based programme which included an interview.’
Mr Oliver added: “We are happy to arrange for the Prime Minister to sit down with some genuinely floating voters. I understand that you would like to do more and if you do not think this is appropriate, we will happily offer the opportunity to the BBC or Sky.”
STV denies it “ran away” from the programme and said that the offer of such a programme remains on the table.
Commenting on the row, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
“These revealing exchanges prove beyond doubt that David Cameron is too feart to face the people of Scotland in the debate on our future.
“His team’s attempts to stage manage this process every step of the way are completely at odds with the grassroots movement of the Yes campaign. The uncomfortable truth for the No campaign is that the political awakening happening across Scotland scares Westminster – and David Cameron’s attempts to duck and dive any real debate are the proof of this.
“Westminster isn’t working for Scotland – and Cameron can’t face the difficult truth. It’s time he had the courage of his convictions and stepped up to a debate with the First Minister on Scotland’s future. The Prime Minister’s time is rapidly running out.”