The Great TV Debate Debate

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009 @ 2:26PM

There is much to be read in today’s newspapers and blogosphere about the first great tv debate between UK party leaders. Not least the supposed outrage in Scotland that Alex Salmond wont be taking part.

At my most petulant I would suggest that perhaps Mr Salmond could be asked to draw the raffle at the end of one of the debates but I appreciate that’s a cheap shot and he’s too important for something like that.

Seriously though, for me the most natural solution to this problem is to remove Nick Clegg from participating in the programme. Make this more of a presidential style debate.

I’m not interested in the idea of involving Plaid and the SNP in some sort of post debate regional analysis programme because there would be no right of reply from the parties they’ll no doubt attack.

Jim Murphy’s solution is to have  a Scotland only debate on the BBC. I’m up for that but hopeful that this too would attract a prime time slot - like  a Sunday evening. The graveyard shift of the Newsnicht slot is not enough.

 But who would represent the SNP? Salmond, Scottish First Minister and retiring MP or Angus Robertson - their Westminster Party Leader and general election candidate? I feel a big game of rock paper scissors coming on (fixed by Kevin Pringle of course.)

Here’s an idea  - why not orchestrate some sort of ratings war? Why not have the party leaders head to head on ITV and schedule a Scottish version for the same slot on the Beeb?

Scotland today is after all on at the same time as the BBC 6 o clock news. There’s clearly an audience and appetite for both. Give the people the opportunity to vote with their remotes.

As for the UK leaders debate, I like the format of the American presidential debates. There was one well regarded chair who asked a question and gave each candidate 90 secs to respond followed by 60 seconds to rebutt anything their opponent said with scope to extend the time frame if things get really interesting.

Get the parties to agree their own ground rules - agreeing the format and what’s fair game. Generate a bit of excitement about it all.

Yes, I accept that this is not a presidential election but the reality is that only the Tories or the Labour party can form the government after the next general election. David Cameron and Gordon Brown lead their respective parties so take part in order to put forward their parties, rather than their own, platform to the electorate.

This is not a perfect solution but it is in my mind a practical one. Those seeking a democratic and fair solution seem to happily ignore the fact that our media is not driven by principles of democracy and fairness.

Others have argued that this could potentially mislead scottish voters. They argue that Scots listening to David Cameron talking about the NHS might confuse them into thinking he could control scottish hospitals. Clearly these people dont watch the 6 o clock news like the rest of the Scottish populace. We Scots regularly here about foundation hospitals or grammar schools on the news and we manage to cope. Why? Because its still interesting, its still “entertaining” in the context of what a television programme is designed to be.

And what about Question Time? Scottish viewers tune into british politicans debating health and education issues every week. Should that be stopped?

What this debate about the debate really needs is a sense of perspective. This is not the only time that our dear politicians will be allowed on the telly in the general election. There will be PPBs, news bulletins, special programmes a go go.

As the Grumpy Spindoctor points out, it was only last week that the FM was preaching about all the more important things there are in the world to talk about.

It is the SNP’s threat to inlist lawyers to stop any screening in Scotland sans Salmond which sounds like censorship to me.

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Categories: SNP, The Press

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