Haggis, Neeps and Liberalism #9

Who does Alex Salmond think he is?

With all three main party leaders having now agreed to participate in televised debates in the run-up to the next general election, Scotland’s Opportunist-in-Chief is threatening to throw his toys out of the pram
unless he’s included in any debate shown north of the border.

But Salmond is indulging in pure gesture politics once again. As my colleague Stephen Glenn has pointed out before, Salmond has no right to expect to take part in a leaders’ debate when he won’t even be a candidate at the next Westminster election.

He leads the fifth biggest party at Westminster (behind the Democratic Unionists) and will be fielding candidates in less than 10 per cent of constituencies UK-wide. Salmond would be far better off insisting on a debate between the four cottish party leaders. That would probably suit him better, given the sheer invisibility of the Scottish Labour Party leader.

In an entirely unscientific survey at the Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth, not a single person I asked could name the Scottish Labour leader. OK, these were all Lib Dems and were all from south of the border, so
they’re not the target voters that the appropriately named Iain Gray* has to convince, but they all were politically aware people who might be expected to know who the various party leaders in Scotland are.

But back to Salmond.

He actually got something right earlier this week. He’s been insisting that the devolved government in Scotland should be represented within the UK delegation at the UN climate change conference in Copenhagen later this year.

Scotland Secretary Jim Murphy had claimed that Salmond was being offered the same terms as his predecessor Jack McConnell in terms of Scotland’s input into such events. Except that was untrue, as photographic evidence emerged of McConnell attending the 2002 Earth Summit in Johannesburg.

Scottish Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott was right to back the view that Scotland should have a ministerial presence in Copenhagen, given that responsibility for tackling the issue is shared between the UK and Scottish governments. Salmond may be guilty of grandstanding over the TV election debates, but on this issue he got it right.

* Even I had to check that he spells his name Gray rather than Grey.

Bernard Salmon blogs at The Sound of Gunfire.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Scotland.


  • Given that we are a federal state in all but name & that salmond leads the largest party in one of our nations; id say he has a point. why not simply have an extra debate/s in Scotland, Wales & NI & leave it up to each party who to put forward ? With a bit less grandstanding on all sides I cant see the big problem.

  • You are quite right about Wee Eck. If Salmond could he would give himself a love bite.

    “not a single person I asked could name the Scottish Labour leader”

    All the respondents in your entirely unscientific straw poll at Bournemouth would be correct because there is no Scottish Labour leader. Ian Gray/Grey is the Leader of the Labour Group in the Scottish Parliament.

  • On the substantive point about the leaders’ debate if it does happen between the 3 main party leaders one solution is for the SNP, Plaid and, er, UKIP (?) to be given an extra PPB straight afterwards so that they can make their response.

  • David Evershed 6th Oct '09 - 3:43pm

    In the latest Euro vote, UKIP and the Greens had many times more votes than SNP so they have a greater claim to be represented in any UK-wide leaders’ debate.

  • Salmond has every right to demand an invite and every right to take legal measures to block the debate if not invited, in fact I’d even argue that he has a duty to do so, and it what’s more it was entirely predictable that he would do just that from the minute this bone-headed idea was first mooted.

    Whatever criteria are chosen they’re going to be essentially arbitrary and open to dispute. There are those who want Clegg excluded because they think the debate should be between only those leaders who stand a chance of being the next PM. Obviously the Lib Dems don’t like this. There are those who want the nationalist parties excluded because they only stand in a limited number of UK constituencies. Obviously the nats don’t like this. I’d guess the nats would be happy to see UKIP and the greens excluded because they don’t currently hold any seats. And so on and so on. The point is that no configuration is any less arbitrary than any other, and every party wants the criteria rigged in their own favour. That’s just an inevitable consequence of trying to import a debate format into a parliamentary system that isn’t suited to it.

    Like it or not the fact that the SNP don’t stand in English constituencies doesn’t affect the reality of the choice before the Scottish electorate one jot.

    The fact is that Salmond has already won this argument whatever happens. If he’s allowed to take part he’ll cast it as a victory, and he’ll get a big boost from the exposure, not to mention the fact that whatever you think of his politics he has more charisma than Brown, Cameron and Clegg combined. If he’s not allowed to take part then he’ll hold it up as a shining example of Westminster arrogance or indifference to Scotland (which it clearly is) and slot it neatly into his narrative for his election campaign and get a huge boost from it anyway.

    Honestly, he must be peeing himself with delight right now.

  • Bernard – according to the labour party’s own website Grey is described as “our leader in the Scottish Parliament” but then I couldn’t see on the website who actually was their Scottish leader so maybe we are both right , or wrong, or (more likely) don’t really care!

    And apologies for veering off topic.

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