Greens give STV petition backing debate inclusion

MORE than 10,000 people have signed a petition in protest at the Scottish Green party’s exclusion from the leaders debate to be broadcast on STV ahead of May’s general election.
Patrick Harvie wants to take part in STV leaders debate. Picture: Ian RutherfordPatrick Harvie wants to take part in STV leaders debate. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Patrick Harvie wants to take part in STV leaders debate. Picture: Ian Rutherford

The petition was handed in at STV’s headquarters in Glasgow yesterday morning as the party – co-convened by Patrick Harvie MSP and councillor Maggie Chapman – warned that it could resort to legal action in a bid to join the debate.

It comes after the broadcaster confirmed it would screen a debate between First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie, leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats – all of whom have backed calls for the Greens to take part.

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The clash, to be broadcast live from the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, will take place on Tuesday 7 April, exactly a month before the general election.

The party suffered a second blow yesterday as Ofcom ruled that it was not a “major party” in either Scotland or the rest of the UK and would not be granted a minimum of two party election broadcasts on each of the relevant UK-wide channels in the run-up to the election.

Meanwhile, however, it is understood that Ukip, which was granted “major party” status in England and Wales but not Scotland, under Ofcom regulations, will still show party political broadcasts north of the Border as both Channel 4 and Channel 5 do not split their coverage across UK regions.

Zara Kitson, Scottish Green candidate for Glasgow North East, warned that if the Greens, who have seen their membership north of the Border swell to above 8,500 after last year’s independence referendum, were not granted access to the leaders’ debate, the party could look to consult lawyers. STV has said that it would include all the major parties as defined by the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

“The option of legal action remains open to us but we hope today’s show of support prompts a rethink by STV,” said Ms Kitson. “The huge support we’ve had from across Scotland, and across the political spectrum, shows that a broadcaster excluding the Scottish Greens is out of touch with its audience.

“TV debates remain an important part of our democracy and as we head towards an election like no other with an electorate more engaged than ever before, it’s essential that voters get to hear a broad range of voices.”

Ofcom’s rules cover party election broadcasts appearing on ITV, STV, UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Classic FM, Talksport and Absolute Radio.

However, separate negotiations with the Broadcast Liaison Group will see two Green Party broadcasts shown north of the Border – on each of STV and BBC Scotland.

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A statement issued by Ofcom yesterday said: “Taking together all the relevant evidence and the views of respondents to our consultation, Ofcom has decided that it would not be appropriate to add the Green Party or the Scottish Green Party to the list of major parties on this occasion.”