Judges press mute button on Sturgeon
Boris-Corbyn TV showdown as SNP loses court battle with ITV
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.