Yes group expresses disappointment at No campaign debate no-show

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  By a Newsnet reporter

An independence debate to be held in Glasgow tomorrow and aimed at the city’s undecided voters, will have representation from both sides despite facing the prospect of only one side turning up after the official No campaign refused to participate.

The debate, which will take place in the Radisson Blue Hotel in the City Centre tomorrow (Thursday) at 7pm, had been set up in order to allow voters, who have yet to make their mind up, to quiz both sides in the referendum campaign.

However, the event which has cost thousands to organise, initially struggled to attract anyone in favour of a No vote after a string of pro-Union politicians and official No campaigners refused to participate.

Commenting, Yes campaigner Natalie McGarry said she was “disappointed” at the reluctance of the No campaign to put people forward to debate.

Ms McGarry, who spearheaded a crowdfunding appeal to help pay for the venue and its promotion, explained how despite enlisting the services of a neutral organisation to chair the debate, the official No campaign refused to attend.

“This was an opportunity for both sides to set out their respective visions and engage with voters who have yet to make their mind up.

“Many people want answers to questions and for the No campaign to refuse to appear makes it look as though they are afraid to face ordinary people.” she said.

Commenting on claims by some in the No campaign that the event is a purely Yes event, Ms McGarry added:

“The event is being chaired by the Electoral Reform Society which is one of the most respected organisations in Scotland and completely neutral in the referendum.

“We approached the Better Together campaign months ago and suggested we jointly organise and host the event and have left the door open at every opportunity.

“The event itself has no campaign logos or literature and promotional leaflets simply calls for undecided voters to come along to the Radisson and hear both sides.”

Newsnet Scotland understands that every Glasgow Labour MP and MSP was contacted but none would appear.  According to Ms McGarry the Better Together campaign had blocked them accepting.

Other panelists who have previously appeared in debates and discussions on behalf of Better Together were also contacted, but all said they were unavailable.

Ms McGarry said: “Tom Harris replied to say he couldn’t appear as did Ruth Davidson’s office.  MSP Drew Smith, MSP Patricia Ferguson and MP Anne McKechin all replied with almost identical pro-forma emails.”

Labour MSP Patricia Ferguson replied saying: “Thank you for the invitation to attend your event. I understand that you have contacted Better Together about this idea and that they have already responded.

“My  priority is to speak directly to voters and as an event organised by one of the campaigns is likely to attract a majority of people who have already made up their minds I will decline your invitation.”

Newsnet Scotland understands that former Labour councillor and prominent No campaigner Michael Kelly was initially amenable to the invitation to appear, but after checking with the Better Together campaign, subsequently announced he had a prior engagement.

However this evening it was confirmed that despite opposition from the official No campaign, the debate will have representation arguing in favour of a No vote.

An organiser told Newsnet Scotland: “Whilst Better Together have refused, we have been proactive in contacting people from various backgrounds who are not part of BT but are voting No.

“We can confirm we have now secured our two No speakers”

Newsnet Scotland asked the Better Together campaign for a statement explaining their no-show decision.  We have yet to receive a reply.

The event will be held in the Radisson Blue Hotel and is scheduled to begin at 7pm.  Entrance is free.