Judges press mute but­ton on Stur­geon

Boris-Cor­byn TV show­down as SNP loses court bat­tle with ITV

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Rachel Wat­son Deputy Scot­tish Po­lit­i­cal Ed­i­tor

NI­COLA Stur­geon yes­ter­day failed in her le­gal chal­lenge against ITV’s de­ci­sion to ex­clude her from a elec­tion de­bate along­side Boris John­son and Jeremy Cor­byn.

The broad­caster will tonight screen the first tele­vised de­bate be­tween the lead­ers of the UK’s two big­gest par­ties.

Miss Stur­geon had ar­gued it was ‘fun­da­men­tally un­fair’ not to in­clude the SNP, the third largest party, while Lib Dem leader Jo Swin­son also mounted a chal­lenge claim­ing it was un­law­ful to lock her out of the clash.

How­ever, the High Court in Lon­don yes­ter­day ruled the de­ci­sion to ex­clude the SNP and Lib Dems was law­ful as there was ‘no ar­guable breach’ of the broad­cast­ing code.

ITV had said it would pull the prime-time de­bate if the judges ruled against it. The SNP had ac­cused the broad­caster of tak­ing a ‘de­lib­er­ate de­ci­sion that con­tra­venes the broad­cast­ing code’ by ex­clud­ing the First Min­is­ter, while the Lib Dems claimed there would be no ‘voice of re­main’ with­out Miss Swin­son.

How­ever, their ar­gu­ments were thrown out by two se­nior judges. An­nounc­ing the rul­ing, Lord Jus­tice Davis said: ‘The clear con­clu­sion of both mem­bers of this court is that, viewed over­all, these claims are not re­al­is­ti­cally ar­guable.’

The judges said the cases brought by both par­ties were not suit­able for a ju­di­cial re­view as ITV was not car­ry­ing out a ‘pub­lic func­tion’.

Fol­low­ing the rul­ing, SNP West­min­ster leader Ian Black­ford said: ‘It is al­ready clear that the West­min­ster po­lit­i­cal sys­tem is ut­terly bro­ken and in­ca­pable of prop­erly rep­re­sent­ing Scot­land’s in­ter­ests.

‘What is now clear is that the UK broad­cast­ing sys­tem is sim­i­larly in­ca­pable.’

Lib­eral Demo­crat pres­i­dent Sal Brin­ton said: ‘Jo Swin­son is the only leader of a na­tional party fight­ing to stop Brexit.

Boris John­son and Jeremy Cor­byn should not be al­lowed to side-step de­bat­ing the is­sue of Brexit with some­one who wants to Re­main, and ITV should not give them the op­por­tu­nity to do so.’

ITV has pledged to hold a live in­ter­view pro­gramme along­side the de­bate, al­low­ing other par­ties to com­ment. A Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive spokesman said: ‘To­day’s de­bate is be­tween the two peo­ple who have a chance of be­com­ing Prime Min­is­ter.

‘Ni­cola Stur­geon’s search for griev­ance will now have to look else­where.’

IT is a damn­ing and clin­i­cally worded judg­ment that could ap­ply to many ar­eas of SnP pol­icy.

Lord Jus­tice Davis ruled the na­tion­al­ists’ de­mand to take part in ITV’s lead­ers’ de­bate was ‘not re­al­is­ti­cally ar­guable’.

His con­clu­sion meant tonight’s clash be­tween Boris John­son and Jeremy Cor­byn can go ahead with no le­gal ob­sta­cle.

Of course, the SnP is no stranger to the court­room in dis­putes of this kind: it fits the party’s all too fa­mil­iar nar­ra­tive of griev­ance.

Draft­ing in lawyers also helps to gen­er­ate pub­lic­ity and re­in­force the du­bi­ous no­tion of the SnP as help­less un­der­dog.

The court found the for­mat of the de­bate was a mat­ter of ‘edi­to­rial judg­ment’ – and noth­ing to do with ni­cola Stur­geon’s ego.

It is en­tirely un­der­stand­able that ITV should want to screen a de­bate in­volv­ing the only pos­si­ble fu­ture prime min­is­ters. For Mr John­son, it of­fers a cru­cial op­por­tu­nity to lay bare the many flaws of Mr Cor­byn’s costly so­cial­ist wish-list.

The his­toric broad­cast has the po­ten­tial to light the touch­pa­per on what has so far been a slug­gish cam­paign.

Gaffes and ill-dis­ci­pline will be beamed into mil­lions of liv­ing rooms.

Some say Mr John­son has most to lose, as the Tories com­mand a dou­ble-digit polls lead. Oth­ers ar­gue he is in the box seat, since he is more in­fec­tiously op­ti­mistic and states­man­like than Labour’s leader.

But he has one glar­ing ad­van­tage. Mr Cor­byn’s pol­icy flip-flops will be ex­posed to re­lent­less scru­tiny.

In any event, Miss Stur­geon will now have to watch the pair go toe-to-toe on TV like the rest of us. Scot­tish party lead­ers will get the chance to take part in a tele­vised de­bate on STV on De­cem­ber 3.

That is a per­fectly ad­e­quate plat­form for Miss Stur­geon to re­hearse her pitch for this elec­tion. The SnP could have saved valu­able court time by ac­knowl­edg­ing at the out­set that its thread­bare case stood pre­cious lit­tle chance of suc­cess.

There is also no doubt that the judges have done TV view­ers in Scot­land a favour by deny­ing Miss Stur­geon a role in tonight’s de­bate. Three weeks are left un­til polling day, but many vot­ers will feel they have heard enough of her di­vi­sive con­sti­tu­tional rhetoric to last a life­time.

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