A new YouGov opinion poll shows clear public opposition to the exclusion of the Scottish Green Party from the TV election debates that start tonight (29 March 2011) on STV.
The poll was commissioned by the Greens and carried out over the weekend. Only four of Scotland's five political leaders will take part in the first of the televised debates on Tuesday evening on STV, while a BBC Scotland leaders' debate will take place on Sunday 1 May.
The BBC and STV broadcasts feature SNP leader Alex Salmond, Labour's Iain Gray, Annabel Goldie of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott - but exclude the Greens, despite their elected presence within the Scottish Parliament.
The Greens are the only parliamentary party left out by the broadcasters.
Eleanor Scott, the Greens' co-convenor, declared: "Elections are meant to be about democracy, and there's no excuse for our broadcasters to ignore the will of the people and choose the parties they want to promote."
She continued: "There were five parties elected to the last Parliament, and any of those five could be called upon to take part in Scotland's next government. If nothing else, Greens deserve to be scrutinised and tested just like the other parties.
"The BBC and STV must respect the democratic voice of the Scottish people. Today's overwhelming poll result shows how out of touch they risk being if they persist in excluding Green voices from these debates. Time is tight, but there's still time for them to think again. It shouldn't be too hard to pull a fifth chair into the studio for Tuesday evening's debate, and I've asked Patrick Harvie MSP to make sure he's available."
Ms Scott also wrote last week to the leaders of the four parties currently included. The SNP and the Liberal Democrats have not responded, but Labour and the Tories have, and neither would object to the Greens taking part.
John Park, Labour's Election Co-ordinator, said: "I have great sympathy with your predicament. While we do respect the right of independent broadcasters to make editorial decisions, we are broadly supportive of your position for two reasons. First, the long history of election debates in Scotland makes the situation significantly different to the recent prime ministerial debates in the general election. Where those debates were focused on the candidates aspiring to be the Prime Minister, the Scottish election debates have for many decades been focused on the parties standing for election to what is now a pluralist legislature. Second, I note that, unlike at the general election, there has been no substantive discussion with the political parties in Scotland around these debates. This is much regretted."
A spokesperson for the Scottish Conservatives said: "[Our leader] Annabel [Goldie] is relaxed about who she debates against - however it is a matter for the broadcasters to decide who to invite to the TV debates and it should be noted that only four parties are fielding candidates in every seat in this election."
Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia, said: "With this decision, major broadcasters are failing the public in the task of providing fair election coverage, and are giving preferential treatment to large, well-funded political parties."
He continued: "Back in June 2009, Ekklesia's report The state of independents: alternative politics set out the case for citizen-based and associational politics as a counter-weight to the hegemony of the big parties and top-down elites. It also indicated the need for political, electoral, financial and media reform to inject fairness into a system which denies real choice and stifles participation."
The Ekklesia co-director added: "Whatever your political views, the reality is that Greens have elected representatives, a significant voice in Scottish politics, and are the only party who have put forward an alternative to the cuts-based economic strategy accepted or promoted by the 'big four'. Yet STV and the BBC have decided that their viewers will not hear directly from their leader Patrick Harvie in these important TV debates, and that the other leaders will not have the opportunity to question and be questioned by one of their strongest critics.
"This seems an odd way of delivering a public service obligation, particularly as polling evidence suggests that the public favour a wider rather than a narrower debate."
An STV spokesperson said: "'Scotland Debates' is an established format involving the leaders of Scotland's four major parties. Over the course of the six week election campaign, STV will provide appropriate coverage of other parties' campaigns, including that of the Scottish Green Party."
In an unrelated event, there have also been complaints that Brighton Pavilion MP and England and Wales Green Party leader Caroline Lucas was excluded from the platform at the TUC-led anti-cuts 'March for the Alternative' in London on Saturday 26 March. No party leader other than Labour's Ed Milliband was invited.
* Ekklesia's earlier report, The state of independents: alternative politics can be read here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/research/independent_politics