Holyrood poll raises fresh query about Scottish TV election debates

By staff writers
30 Mar 2011

A YouGov opinion poll putting the Green Party ahead of the Lib Dems in Scotland for the first time ever, has raised fresh questions about the decision by STV and the BBC to exclude the Greens from election TV leader debates ahead of the 5 May 2011 poll.

The survey, conducted on behalf of the Scotsman newspaper, shows the Scottish Green Party (SGP) with six per cent of regional voting intentions (up two per cent compared to 2007), while the Liberal Democrats are on five per cent (down 5.3 per cent compared to 2007).

'Others', including Greens, are level-pegging with the Lib Dems on per cent per cent voting intentions in constituencies. The Scotsman newspaper's overall seat prediction is six for the Greens and five for the Liberal Democrats, with the Conservatives heading for 13, the Scottish National Party for 48 and Labour for 57.

"Whoever becomes First Minister, the question is this: who should hold the balance-of-power? There are only two choices - either it'll be one of the Westminster coalition parties, or it'll be the Greens. Scots have always trusted us on the environment, but increasingly we're winning support for our positive proposals on the economy and on public services," claims Scottish Green Party co-convenor Patrick Harvie.

The Greens have been in a key balance-of-power position before. Yet both STV and the BBC decided to exclude the party from the Holyrood TV leaders' election debates that started last night (29 March 2011) with the STV programme 'Scotland Debates', which tackled issues like education fees, taxation and employment during the live discussion hosted by the channel's political editor Bernard Ponsonby.

This meant that only four of the five parties in parliament got the chance for their leaders to speak and cross-question each other in front of the voting public in the prime TV slot.

STV refused requests to reconsider their decision - despite a broadcasting obligation to show due impartiality, the fact that the Greens have parliamentary representation, poll evidence that 63 per cent of the public disagree with them, the possibility that the SGP could hold be in a balance-of-power situation after 5 May, and the lack of objections from the other four parties.

The television company was also unwilling to address questions put to them about the issue by the independent beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia yesterday, stating only that "'Scotland Debates' is an established format involving the leaders of Scotland's four major parties" and saying that other aspects of their coverage would show balance.

They confirmed that on a separate occasion Green co-convenor, Patrick Harvie, will feature in a half-hour online face-to-face interview with STV's Political Editor, Bernard Ponsonby. But they would not say how much time other four leaders will be given, or provide any specific reason as to why Harvie was not included in last night's live debate.

Asked a series of detailed questions about the nature of the decision, its procedure and rationale, STV responded, "On this occasion, we have nothing further to add to our previous statement", adding that "STV is a publicly owned company and has no political affiliations, nor have any political donations been made."

Conservative leader Annabel Goldie has said she is "relaxed" about who she debates with, and Labour are broadly supportive of Green voices being heard. The Lib Dems have not responded on the issue, and nor have the SNP - who were backed by the Greens over their own complaints about being left out of the Westminster election TV debates last May.

Meanwhile, another opinion poll, conducted by TNS-BMRB and published before last night's live TV debate, has indicated a growing disillusion with largest parties - reinforcing further the Greens' complaints.

Just seven per cent of those questioned thought Labour leader Iain Gray would make the best First Minister. SNP leader Alex Salmond received 30 per cent approval, Conservative Annabel Goldie got nine per cent, and Liberal Democrat Tavish Scott received only two per cent.

However, 16 per cent of respondents supported none of the four and 37 per cent were undecided, reported the Press Association.

Commenting on the decision by STV, and so far the BBC, to exclude her party, Eleanor Scott, the Greens' other 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."

The spotlight will now turn on the BBC for the next live debate, which is near to polling date. Political reform critics have described the television companies' decision to leave out one of the five parties contending the Scottish Parliamentary Elections as "unfair", "indefensible" and "deeply unsatisfactory".

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More on the SGP: http://www.scottishgreens.org.uk/

[Ekk/3]

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