Darling pulls out of TV debate with Salmond

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darling  By G.A.Ponsonby

Better Together head Alistair Darling has pulled out of a live TV debate with First Minister Alex Salmond.

The shock decision by the leader of the No campaign follows confirmation on Sunday that Mr Salmond had agreed to take part in a televised debate after repeated requests from Better Together.

Commenting on Sunday, on the day it was confirmed the First Minister would take part in the head-to-head, Blair McDougall, the campaign coordinator of Better Together, said: “Alex Salmond’s TV debates bluff has finally been called.

“This is a welcome, if long-overdue, climb-down by the First Minister.”

However, according to the Telegraph newspaper, the anti-independence campaign has now announced it is pulling out of the debate because of a possible date change.  The original proposed date of July 16th may be changed in order to avoid a clash with the Commonwealth Games.

Better Together have attacked STV, complaining that the broadcaster has bowed to pressure from Mr Salmond in allowing the date change.

A Better Together spokesperson said: “This is astonishing stuff. STV told us that they would not negotiate on the date of this debate. They were emphatic that the date would not change.

“That hard line stance lasted until Salmond decided that, even although he was free on that date, he didn’t fancy debating Alistair. STV have simply rolled over. It is not on.”

However the claim that a date had been formally agreed was challenged by STV who this evening published the responses from both sides after STV invited them to take part in the debate.  The broadcaster had proposed a two hour debate on July 16th, but claimed that neither side had formally accepted the date.

According to STV, the First Minister’s office indicated his preference was for a debate with Prime Minister David Cameron.  However, Mr Salmond accepted that, should Mr Cameron decline to participate, he would agree to a debate with Mr Darling after the Commonwealth Games, which concludes on August 3rd.

The First Minister had agreed to a proposal from STV to a referendum debate in front of a live audience in Edinburgh on July 16 if the Prime Minister David Cameron accepted the challenge.

And if the PM continues to duck a debate, the FM agreed in principle to a debate with Alistair Darling on a date shortly after the conclusion of the Commonwealth Games.

The First Minister’s letter said: “Should the Prime Minister continue to refuse to participate in a head-to-head televised debate, the First Minister will indeed agree in principle to debate with Alistair Darling or another No campaign nominee, in the terms set out by your letter of June 18, on a date shortly after the Commonwealth Games have taken place.

“Given your desire to secure the first televised debate involving the First Minister we believe the proposals we outline above would allow that landmark debate to take place live on STV.”

Responding to Alistair Darling pulling out of the STV debate, a spokesman for the First Minister said: “This outburst at STV from the No campaign shows they are rattled and fraying at the edges.

“Our position is clear and has been throughout – we will pursue the Prime Minister for a head to head debate on STV’s proposed date of July 16 or in advance of the Commonwealth Games.

“And the only thing stopping a debate on that date is David Cameron’s refusal to step up to the plate.  If he continues to duck the debate, we will take on Alistair Darling after the Commonwealth Games.”

An STV spokesman said: “STV is firmly committed to staging a live TV debate between the First Minister and Alistair Darling.  We have not received agreement from both sides on the proposed date of July 16 and are reviewing the proposed date on that basis.”

Better Together revealed that Mr Darling has instead accepted an offer to take part in a TV debate to be hosted by the BBC.

The broadcaster, which has moved to a pro-Union stance in its coverage of the referendum, has set a date of August 12th, however it is not known if the First Minister has agreed to take part in this rival debate.