THE Court of Session in Edinburgh has witnessed many important legal contests over the decades….
THE Court of Session in Edinburgh has witnessed many important legal contests over the decades – but when it comes to questions of basic fairness and democracy then few are as simple as the case I plan to lodge there this morning.
I will be presenting the formal legal papers outlining the SNP’s case in our action to make sure that Scotland is properly represented when the BBC hosts the final UK leaders’ debate of this election in Birmingham on Thursday.
The first two of these contests, on ITV and Sky, have totally dominated the campaign. As Alex Salmond said at the weekend, these debates have been the campaign.
And for Scotland not to be properly included in them is a democratic disgrace.
The SNP is the party of government in Scotland, in charge of the NHS, education, law and order and many other of the everyday issues that people base their votes on – and that reason alone should be enough to justify inclusion in the debates.
But this is about much more than any one political party. Because, while ITV and Sky were equally wrong not to have proper representation in their debates, the BBC has an extra special responsibility in this regard.
They are supposed to be Scotland’s national broadcaster – and millions of Scots are asked to pay a licence fee to the Corporation every year.
That licence fee should guarantee that Scotland and Scottish viewers are treated fairly, not as second-class citizens.
Taking legal action of the kind we are today doesn’t come cheaply. That’s why we mounted a special fundraising drive on Sunday – and the response to that fighting fund appeal has been fantastic.
By 5pm yesterday, we had smashed through the £50,000 target we had set. The fact we have been able to raise the money needed so quickly just goes to show how strongly people the length and breadth Scotland feel about this issue. Donations have come flooding in from ordinary people who simply share our anger at the way Scotland has been treated by the BBC.
The rapid success of the appeal is also thanks to the way the SNP has embraced social media and networking websites to spread our messages. Our fighting fund appeal is arguably the most successful online fundraising drive on the history of UK politics.
Now that we have the money and are ready to make our case in court, we need to make it clear to people exactly what it is we are trying to achieve.
We’re not trying to stop the BBC debate, we want it to go ahead as planned and to be broadcast across the whole of the UK, including Scotland. But that must be on the basis that it is fair and democratic and includes all the main political parties in Scotland.
That is why, legal jargon aside, our case is so simple and so straightforward. It is simply unfair and undemocratic not to be allowed to participate.
The frustrating thing is that, while the debates have totally dominated the election campaign, the contests have been fairly bland – and that’s because there is so little to choose between the London-based parties.
Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems – Tweedledum, Tweedledee and Tweedledem – all offer the same message to Scotland. Cuts, cuts and more cuts. Whether it’s Labour’s “deeper and tougher” cuts than Margaret Thatcher, the Tories’ Cameron Cut or the Liberals’ Clegg Cut, they all have Scotland’s budget in their sights.
The SNP says we should cut the things that don’t matter, like the £100 billion on new Trident nuclear missiles or the £100 million a year spent on the House of Lords – or the £10 million a year on the Scotland Office. We should cut these things and protect spending on things that do matter, like schools and hospitals.
The SNP would bring these debates to life by offering an alternative message to the one on offer from all the other parties. We would also bring our experience of running a minority government in Scotland – something that is becoming more and more relevant by the day as opinion polls point to a probable balanced parliament at Westminster.
The SNP has been offered so-called compensation for its exclusion from the leaders’ debates in the shape of special Scottish debates – and we have made full use of them. Alex Salmond won Sunday’s live Sky TV debate in Edinburgh hands-down. An opinion poll out immediately after the contest finished showed that 45 per cent of people thought the First Minister had won the debate – compared to just five per cent for Labour’s Jim Murphy.
But these Scottish debates are nothing new – we’ve had them at elections here since 1992. And what’s more they cannot provide fairness because they allow the London parties double the coverage, in addition to the UK debates.
No – the only acceptable, fair and democratic solution is for Scotland to be properly represented and for the SNP to be given its rightful place in the BBC debate this Thursday. As the former Independent MP Martin Bell – a man with 35 years’ distinguished service with the Corporation – said yesterday, anything else is “profoundly unfair”.