Comment: Why the leaders’ debates should remain a ménage a trois

Inviting the nationalist leaders onto the main debates would frustrate the majority of viewers who cannot vote for them.

By Aled Thomas

The nationalist parties, SNP and Plaid Cymru are angry that they were not invited to take part in the three planned leaders’ debates.

They have been lobbying the BBC to get an extra two lecterns on the corporations show on April 29th, or to schedule a fourth debate, and pending a meeting with the BBC Trust they may get their wish.

It’s understandable that the parties want to join the, err party.

They see what exposure on an equal footing with Brown and Cameron has done for Nick Clegg.

They want a piece of that action.

But despite my name, my place of birth, and my loathing, once a year, for the English rugby team three-quarters line (Ollie passes it to Josh, who gives it to Jonny, then to Benjy, who slips it to Tarquin etc) and my innate Celtic solidarity with the parties, I don’t think they should get it.

If devolution means anything, it means being in charge of your own affairs, running Scotland from Edinburgh and Wales from Cardiff; it means going it alone, to a greater or lesser degree.

And once you’ve cut, or in Wales’ case loosened, the Westminster apron strings, you can’t then demand to be folded back in when it suits.

The three main parties’ leaders’ debates are being broadcast nationwide, from Wick to West Wittering, from Harwich to Haverfordwest (and in Northern Ireland of course).

Everyone watching will be able to cast a vote for one of those parties (even in the province, where all three have made local alliances).

But that’s not the case if Ieuan Wyn Jones and Alex Salmond get to join in.

Assuming the viewership of such a debate is equally spread across the country, only 500,000 of the projected 10m who tune in will be in Wales.

That’s 9.5 m people who cannot vote for Mr Jones’ party; what are they to think when he is putting his case?

They can nip out for a pee, or a fag or put the kettle on; all of which might have been welcome during Thursday’s 90 minutes.

Or they might turn over and lose interest.

In a country where engagement and turn-out is reaching critically low levels, where our democracy might be in danger if more people tune out from the way the country’s run, it would be wrong to squander this opportunity to get people interested.

Worse, what if I was to be so enthused by Alex Salmond’s plan to scrap Trident that I rushed to register, eagerly awaited my poll card and queued up at 7am on May 6th to vote, vote, vote for the SNP. only to find that the nice man with the attractive burr, who made such sense to me; well his party wasn’t offering me a candidate, because I live, like most people in this country, outside Scotland.

Instead I have to vote for one of the others, the ones I didn’t like so much. Hmm, I don’t think I’ll bother, what’s the point? Another voter lost.

No, let us hear from the men who might conceivably be prime minister in three weeks time.

Plaid and the SNP are proper parties, led by serious people, and they’re both in government in their respective countries.

But they are only standing in Wales and Scotland.

They will be heard, in debates, with all the other main parties in Wales and Scotland. That is right and proper, and I wish them well.

But asking a public distrustful of, and bored by, politics to listen to people they cannot vote for is a waste of everybody’s time and goodwill.

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