Will Salmond and McConnell battle it out on TV on April Fools' Day?

AN EAGERLY awaited television confrontation between Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, could take place on April Fools' Day.

Sources close to Mr McConnell have revealed he is in talks with STV over a round-table debate involving the main party leaders, with 1 April pencilled in.

The news came as Angus Robertson, the SNP's election campaign director, accused the First Minister of being "on the run" over controversial refusals to face Mr Salmond in a face-to-face programme.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr McConnell had refused numerous invitations to take on Mr Salmond in debates in the run-up to the Holyrood elections on 3 May, and The Scots- man yesterday reported unease within his own party at his stance, particularly with Labour still trailing the Nationalists in the polls and with the party's campaign apparently being directed from London.

Mr McConnell then went on national radio to defend his position, saying he would not get involved in campaigning until after Holyrood goes into recess at the end of this month.

However, last night sources within the party let it be known that Mr McConnell was preparing to appear in a television debate with party leaders including Mr Salmond, tipped to take place on STV on 1 April.

The SNP claimed the move was little more than an attempt by Mr McConnell to deflect criticism, while still delaying a debate with Mr Salmond for as long as possible.

Mr Robertson said: "He has been forced into confirming something he would always have had to do - he's running scared. He's just made an April fool of himself."

He said that once an official election campaign began, all the main leaders, like Annabel Goldie of the Tories and Nicol Stephen of the Liberal Dem-ocrats, would have to become involved in TV debates because of rules governing equal TV time allocation to political parties.

Mr Robertson confirmed that the SNP had also been approached by STV to take part in an all-party debate in April and added: "We assumed that Jack McConnell would be involved as well."

But he added: "Unlike every previous Labour leader, he hasn't been prepared to come out and debate before the election campaign.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"He's even ducking The Scotsman's own [Nationhood] debate and he's declined seven previous opportunities to debate with Alex Salmond."

The First Minister has already refused to take part in a head-to-head debate with Mr Salmond on Channel 4 News, a similar event on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, a Newsnight special on the Union and the BBC's flagship discussion programme, Question Time, which featured all the leaders of the main parties in Scotland, except him. All the main party leaders - except Mr McConnell - have also signalled they would attend the eighth and final debate in The Scotsman's Nationhood series, due to be held on March 15 in Edinburgh.

Earlier yesterday, Mr McConnell told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "I'm First Minister and I am in that job full time until the end of March, and then we will have an election campaign with plenty of debate.

"That is the job people pay me to do and I'll be happy to debate as soon as the election campaign comes around."

He claimed his party was counterting the Nationalists with a range of recently announced policies.

He insisted: "We are setting the agenda, that's why we're winning the argument."

Mr McConnell is scheduled to give a campaigning speech to Labour activists in Dunblane today.